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UK Reveals £650m ID Card Contracts

The government has awarded contracts to CSC and IBM to upgrade biometric passports and other systems that will pave the way for ID Cards

The UK government has announced new contracts with IT suppliers to help push forward plans for the introduction of national ID Cards.

In a statement issued today, the Identity and Passport Service (IPS) said it is “replacing and upgrading” contracts for processing passport applications due to expire in 2009 and 2010 whilst also creating a new database for storing biometric information.

According to home secretary Jacqui Smith, the development of the database and the contract upgrades will pave the way for eventual introduction of ID Cards and biometric passports.

“These contracts bring ID cards and more secure British passports a step closer, taking advantage of the best technology available to bring real benefits,” said Smith.

“Our passport is already respected across the world as a Gold Standard for travel documents – these improvements will further help protect our borders.”

But despite claims that ID Cards will help improve security and combat terrorism, the scheme has been heavily criticised by privacy campaigners and oppostion parties as a waste of money – even before the current recession took hold.

Following a spate of data breaches over the last 12 months, the Liberal Democrats recently claimed the government is not capable of handling such a complex and sensitive project. “Recent catastrophes involving personal data clearly demonstrate the inability of the Government to handle sensitive information,” said Liberal Democrat Shadow Home Secretary, Chris Huhne. “The ID card scheme should be scrapped immediately, and the money used to put 10,000 extra police officers on our streets.”

US IT services provider CSC has been awarded the £385m contract to upgrade the IPS application and enrolment system which will include a new system for processing applications for passports and ID cards, the ability for customers to apply online, as well as new IT and telephony systems. The government claims around 50 companies applied for the contract which was eventually awarded to CSC.

For its part, IBM has been awarded a £265m contract to build and run the biometric database which will store facial images and fingerprints which the government claims are “needed to keep the passport in line with international standard, as well as to support the delivery of the ID card”. IBM has also been charged with developing a replacement for the UK Border Agency’s (UKBA) Immigration and Asylum Fingerprint System (IAFS) which holds biometrics collected from visa applicants.

“The British passport is already one of the most secure in the world and it is vital we maintain that strength by moving with the rest of the international community,” said James Hall, chief executive of the Identity and Passport Service. “That is why as we replace expiring contracts we are introducing fingerprint and facial biometric technology to the passport. At the same time we are upgrading our application process to improve the service our customers receive. Both contracts will also help deliver the ID cards programme.”

According to government figures, over the next ten years the cost of running IPS and upgrading the British passport will be around £3.595bn. The cost of delivering ID Cards is expected to be a further £1.190bn.

According to IPS, it is due to sign two further contracts this year. The first is for production and design of the physical ID Cards, due to be signed later this year, with  Fujitsu, IBM and Thales UK currently bidding for the contract.

In August 2008 Thales UK was awarded the £18 million three year contract to deliver the first ID cards to airside workers and volunteers starting in autumn this year.

The second contract IPS is set to sign is with a new supplier for the design and production of new biometric passports when existing agreements expire. Suppliers including 3M SPL, De La Rue, Gemalto and Thales UK are bidding for the contract which will be issued in summer, IPS claims.

The government claims the next generation of UK passport containing chips with facial images and fingerprints will start to be issued from 2011. Anyone applying for one of these upgraded biometric passports will also be able to apply for an ID Card if they choose.