Identity cards, valid for a period of 10 years, are issued by the local préfecture, sous-préfecture, mairie (in France) or in any French Embassy (abroad) and are free of charge. A fingerprint of the holder is taken, which is stored in paper files and which can only be accessed by a judge in closely defined circumstances. A central database duplicates the information on the card, but strict laws limit access to the information and prevent it being linked to other databases or records.
The cards may be used to verify identity and nationality and may also be used for travel within the European Union and certain other countries instead of a passport. The cards are widely used for other purposes - for example when opening a bank account, or when making a payment by cheque.
Under the decree of October 27 1955 a revised non-compulsory card, the carte nationale d'identité (CNI) was introduced, and the central records abandoned. With the introduction of lamination in 1988 it was renamed the carte nationale d’identité sécurisée (CNIS) (secure national identity card). In 1995 the cards were made machine-readable. It became free in 1998.
The official agency in charge of data use monitoring, the 'national commission for computing and liberties' (Commission nationale de l'informatique et des libertés or CNIL) has no official position since the project hasn't been officially submitted yet. CNIL was itself created (in 1978) to guard against the infringement of liberty that might result from the use of information technology, as a result of the public outcry over other plans in the 1970s to issue a 'national identity number' to each citizen, linked to the records of all Government agencies (which would have been similar to the existing numbers in many other European countries: Finland, Sweden, Belgium, Italy, Spain, Estonia, etc.).
The FDI reported to Villepin's successor, Nicolas Sarkozy, on June 16, 2005, stating that 74% were in favour of the cards, 75% in favour of a fingerprint database, and 63% in favour of compulsion. They did, however, make a number of recommendations to change aspects of the proposals.
In response to the Government's debate, a group of French bodies initiated a report and petition against the plans. Founded by the Human Rights League (Ligue des droits de l'Homme), Magistrates' Union (Syndicat de la Magistrature), French Lawyers' Union (Syndicat des Avocats de France), the 'Imagine a United Internet Association' (association Imaginons un Réseau Internet Solidaire), the Group for Rights and Liberties in the face of the Computerisation of Society (intercollectif Droits Et Libertés face à l’Informatisation de la Société) and the French Democratic Lawyers Association (Association française des juristes démocrates), the group submitted an alternative report and petition. This states that:
Over 1000 organisations and individuals backed the report's conclusions. By then end of January 2006 this had risen to over 68 groups and organisations, and over 6,000 individuals.
The Senate named a commission. Its 2005 report pointed the need to fight the existing fraud by a new identity card system which should also protect freedom and privacy.
A new project, taking into account the criticism and suggestions made in 2005, is under study.