UK Taps U.S. Outsourcers For $960 Million National ID Project

IBM and CSC will create biometric identification systems under a pair of 10-year deals.
The United Kingdom's Identity and Passport Service (IPS) on Tuesday awarded more than $950 million in contracts to U.S. companies Computer Sciences Corp. and IBM to create a controversial national ID card system and biometrically enhanced 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 U.K. Home Secretary Jacqui Smith, in a statement. "ID cards and passports with fingerprint and facial biometrics will provide a safe way of protecting personal details and proving identity."

CSC won a 10-year, $570 million contract to upgrade IPS's enrollment and application system. The El Segundo, Calif.-based vendor will build an online system that will let U.K. citizens apply for passports and report lost or stolen documents over the Internet. CSC also will create new background verification systems.

Under a 10-year, $390 million contract, IBM will build a database for storing fingerprint and facial biometric data. Big Blue also will develop a fingerprinting system for the U.K. Border Agency.

CSC and IBM were selected from a field of vendors that included 50 bidders for the work, according to IPS officials. "IBM and CSC have shown they are superbly placed to deliver these large projects and we are delighted that they are working with us," said IPS chief executive James Hall.

The United Kingdom believes biometrically enhanced passports and national ID cards are key weapons in its fight against illegal immigration, contraband smuggling, and terrorism.

But the program isn't without controversy. Critics charge that forcing nationals to carry ID cards is an Orwellian plan that brings the United Kingdom a step closer to a Big Brother-style government. Guardian writer Guy Herbert, in a column Tuesday, called the program "just another distraction so you won't notice the bureaucratic monster being fed in the shadows."

"Hall's handing out vast wodges of your money for IT development of something or other," wrote Herbert.

Britain's Labour Party backs the plan, but the opposition Conservatives have threatened to ax the program if they're returned to power.

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