IBM's ID card contract to last seven years

IBM's ID card contract to last seven years

Summary: The government signs up to a long contract to run an ID card database, even though the Conservatives have said they will scrap the scheme if they come into power at the next election

TOPICS: Security

IBM's contract to supply technology for ID cards will last seven years, despite the possibility that a change in government could scupper the scheme.

The company and the Identity and Passport Service (IPS) announced the contract term on Friday. In April, IBM was awarded the contract to administer the National Biometric Identity Service (NBIS) database, which will hold identifying information such as facial images and fingerprints. The NBIS is used for biometric passports and for the National Identity Register (NIR), which will be used in issuing ID cards under the government scheme.

"This contract will provide a secure database for storing facial and fingerprint images for the next generation of biometric passports and will support the delivery of the National Identity card," said IPS chief executive James Hall in a statement on Friday.

The Conservative Party has pledged to scrap the ID cards scheme if it wins the next general election, which will be in 2010 at the latest. On Friday, the party said that it would take a close look at all ID card-related contracts if it came to power.

"We will scrutinise these contracts closely, but the Conservatives are committed to dropping the ID cards scheme and the national register," shadow immigration minister Damian Green told ZDNet UK on Friday.

The Conservative Party told ID card contractors in June that its "firm policy" is to abandon the National Identity Scheme. It urged contractors not to sign any new deals, and warned against "poison pill" contractual break clauses designed to prevent the cancellation of the project.

Former home secretary Jacqui Smith acknowledged in March that to cancel two of the ID card contracts would cost £40m. The Home Office told ZDNet UK that cancelling IBM's NBIS contract would incur costs.

"There would be a cost in the event of the contract being broken," said a Home Office spokesperson. "The cost would depend on the length of time that had elapsed after the contract was signed." The spokesperson added that termination clauses in contracts are normal.

IBM will mainly use its own hardware and software to operate and integrate the NBIS database, and is the prime contractor, the IPS said on Friday. The company said on Friday that it has subcontracted work to Atos Origin, which will provide integration and operations support, and to Sagem Securitie, which will supply biometrics services and software.

The IPS and IBM have also signed a deal for the company to supply a replacement for the UK Border Agency's Immigration and Asylum Fingerprint System, which holds visa applicants' biometrics.

National Identity Scheme contractors also include CSC, which has a contract to upgrade UK passport application systems.

Topic: Security

Tom Espiner

About Tom Espiner

Tom is a technology reporter for He covers the security beat, writing about everything from hacking and cybercrime to threats and mitigation. He also focuses on open source and emerging technologies, all the while trying to cut through greenwash.

Kick off your day with ZDNet's daily email newsletter. It's the freshest tech news and opinion, served hot. Get it.


Log in or register to join the discussion
  • IBM ID Card contract

    Gosh! I think this says it all about the arrogance of the Government that they'd award such a lengthy contract, AND put in penalty clauses for breaking it early... they MUST know there's a strong chance they'll lose the next election?!?
    That seems pretty petty & mean-spirited to effectively cripple your impending successor in this manner
  • IBM knows the ID card scheme is a loser

    Gruesome thought that this government would tie the hands of the next administration so effectively. Or look at it another way: IBM knows just what a poor idea this is - if you doubt it, check <a href="">a report I wrote</a> in 2006 after a visit to IBM's own research labs where a researcher agreed that the scheme wouldn't work.

    So what would you do in IBM's place when the opposition, which looks increasingly likely to be elected next year, has made it policy to scrap the scheme? The government is over a barrel as it's the only party that believes in the scheme, so the scheme is a poisoned chalice for any IT contractor.

    In Big Blue's place, you'd negotiate highly punitive penalty clauses, oh yes...
    Manek Dubash
  • Slimy or what?

    It is a long established tenet of politicians that if you make a spectacularly unpopular decision, you make sure no-one can reverse it. Hence after the Beeching cuts, we tore up the railway lines and disposed of the land; when the Labour government cancelled the world-beating TSR2, they physically destroyed the aircraft and the tools.
    Now things are more subtle, but nonetheless equally dishonest.
    Having failed to persuade a sceptical public that ID cards would be a good idea, the Government decided they would only be compulsory at first for people working in airports. When that was opposed, it was quietly dropped, and we were told the whole scheme would be "voluntary". The Conservatives have a good chance of winning the next election, and have pledged to scrap the scheme.
    Hence, if Cameron and Co DO cancel it, they will be publicly castigated for wasting public money on the cancellation. New Labour will make political capital out of their own dishonest decisions.

    And they wonder why hardly anyone votes...