IBM inks UK biometric passport deal

London, England – IBM has today finalised a seven-year deal to provide the core elements of the UK government’s plans to upgrade to biometric passports.

The move is intended to enhance the security of the UK’s borders, says the government. IBM will also provide a replacement for the UK Border Agency’s (UKBA) Immigration and Asylum Fingerprint System (IAFS) which holds biometrics collected from visa applicants.

The £265 million contract covers both UKBA fingerprinting capabilities and running the database that will store the facial images and fingerprints needed to keep the passport in line with international standards.

James Hall, Chief Executive of the Identity and Passport Service (IPS), said: “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.

“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. That is why as we replace expiring contracts we are introducing fingerprint and facial biometric technology to the passport.”

As the prime contractor, IBM will manage the project, the majority of which will be built using IBM hardware and software. Atos Origin will provide systems integration and operations support, while Sagem Securite will supply biometric services and software.

The next generation of UK passports containing chips with facial images and fingerprints will start to be issued from 2011, at which point customers will get the choice of applying for an ID card as well.

During the next ten years the cost of running the IPS and upgrading the British passport is £3.595bn ($5.8bn), with an additional expected spend of £1.190bn ($2bn) for delivering ID cards.

From September this year, the cost of a UK 10-year adult passport will rise by seven percent to £77.50 ($126). The UK Home Office claims the above-inflation increase is due to the recession, as the IPS had lost revenue due to fewer travellers and businessmen renewing their passports, with 5.25 million issued in the year to March 2009, compared with 5.9 million in 2008.