IBM, CSC win UK ID card biometrics contracts

IBM will build and run the biometrics database behind the National Identity Register, while CSC will implement processing and enrollment systems, including online passport applications.
Written by Tom Espiner, Contributor

IBM and CSC have been awarded contracts to run some of the technology behind the government's ID cards and passports schemes.

On Tuesday, the Home Office announced that IBM had won a 265 million pound (US$390 million) contract to build and run the U.K. Border Agency (UKBA) database of fingerprints and facial images taken for passports and visa applications, called the National Biometric Information Service (NBIS). The NBIS database will feed into the National Identity Register, the database behind the ID cards scheme.

Biometric details for the National Identity Scheme will be held on the NBIS, while biographical details will be held on the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) database, a government source told ZDNet Asia's sister site ZDNet UK on Tuesday. No government department staff aside from the Identity and Passport Service (IPS) will be able to access either the biometric or biographical details, the source added.

Private-sector companies--for example, a bank seeking to authenticate someone's identity--will not be able to access the details directly, but will be able to use the NBIS to answer queries indirectly, via IPS systems.

The U.K. Home Office also announced on Tuesday that systems integrator CSC had won a 385 million pound (US$567 million) contract to upgrade the IPS application-and-enrollment systems. This will include putting in place different processing systems, and the means for people to apply for biometric passports online.

U.K. Home secretary Jacqui Smith said in a statement that citizens' biometric data would be "safe and secure".

"ID cards and passports with fingerprint and facial biometrics will provide a safe and secure way of protecting personal details and proving identity," said Smith. "These contracts bring ID cards and more secure British passports a step closer, taking advantage of the best technology available to bring real benefits."

However, privacy campaigner Phil Booth of pressure group No2ID told ZDNet UK on Tuesday that the government was wasting public money on an unnecessary scheme.

"We don't need a centralized identity register, and we don't need to overhaul our systems," said Booth. "Work on passports has brought us up to all international requirements for the next 10 years."

Booth said that the ID cards scheme had doubled the cost of a passport since 2004, and that there was "no end in sight" in terms of how much the scheme would eventually cost.

"This is a disgrace, especially as this scheme is so controversial," said Booth. "The [ID card] costs are back up to 4.7 billion pounds (US$7 billion) [over 10 years], but these are Home Office costs alone, and are nothing to do with how much the scheme will cost other government departments, and individuals applying for passports."

Opposition to ID cards and the National Identity Register remains strong. A report by the Foundation for Information Policy Research, published in March, concluded that the National Identity Register and 10 other government databases "almost certainly break European law".

IBM declined to give a comment to ZDNet UK on Tuesday. CSC had not responded to a request for comment at the time of writing.

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