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
"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.