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.