Home Secretary John Reid (below) was urged to "come clean" and ditch his controversial identity card plans last night after it emerged that a crucial stage of the project has been postponed.
Tendering of contracts for the multi-billion-pound programme - which will force every adult in Britain to give fingerprint and iris scans - has been put off until at least the end of the year.
Computer Weekly magazine disclosed that the delay will mean the scheme is highly unlikely to be running by 2008 as planned.
It also emerged that the project is likely to be dramatically simplified.
Rather than having all ten fingerprints and other "biometrics" stored on a microchip in the card, the new slimmed-down version may have only a digital photograph, or possibly two fingerprints.
Liberal Democrat home affairs spokesman Nick Clegg said: "This admission of delay is the first outward sign of the chaos that is engulfing Tony Blair's hare-brained ID card scheme.
"John Reid should now come clean. It is only a matter of time before he realises that plans for such a vast identity database are not only flawed in principle but unworkable in practice.
"A small delay will not save this project. Only abandoning the whole ID card venture will get the Government off the hook."
The contracts have been put off while the Home Office carries out a full review of all its activities in the wake of the foreign prisoners scandal.
The project director at the Identity and Passport Service, Nigel Seed, said: "It is a sensible delay. What we do not want to do is go out the wrong way while the Home Office is still looking at the solution." Describing the possible options for a simplified card, he added: "We are trying to make it as simple as possible, so there is as little information on the card as possible."
However, the central biometric database - the key objection by civil liberties groups on privacy grounds - will continue to hold the full range of biometric data.
A Home Office spokesman said: "Biometric identity is absolutely central to our future plans."