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UK police fingerprint system collapses

Software glitch fingered

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Computer problems have left police forces in England and Wales unable to run national fingerprint checks for more than a week.

All 43 forces in England and Wales, including London's Metropolitan Police, were affected by a software bug, which disrupted connections to the National Automated Fingerprint Identification System (Nafis) since the early hours of Wednesday, 24 November.

The exact cause of the problem remains unclear and will become the subject of an audit once services are fully restored.

Nafis is run for the Police IT Organisation (PITO) by Northrop Grumman. A spokesman for PITO said that service was restored to 30 forces by the end of last week. "All forces - bar one - are now up and running."

Fingerprint experts were still able to compare prints against local databases, but national checks on suspects or evidence from crime scenes were hindered. A leaked memo - written by Bruce Grant, head of the Met's Fingerprint Bureau - said that the networking problem meant "that no offender's identity can be verified", the London Evening Standard reports.

A PITO spokesman told The Register that problems accessing Nafis did not have a significant effect on investigations. "No data was compromised; it's simply that police had difficulty running searches. If a force couldn't access the national database they could use other forces. We had contingency plans in place," he said. PITO said the communication problems were the first major difficulty to befall Nafis after years of reliable operation.

However, the failure comes at the worst possible time for the Home Office. Ministers are seeking to convince the public the government can roll-out an ID card system, underpinned by biometric technology such as fingerprints, without IT problems.

Established in 2001, Nafis has expanded include more than five million sets of prints and over half a million crime scene marks, according to the latest figures from PITO. A national ID register would be a much larger undertaking. ®

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