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Home Office: IPS to hang onto snaps of fingerprints

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The Home Office has revealed more about the workings of the biometric database that will support the National Identity Scheme.

In response to questions from GC News, the IPS said the National Biometric Identity Store (NBIS), which will be built by the Identity and Passport Service under a £265m contract with IBM, will hold both the original images and the derived templates of faces and fingerprints of applicants for passports, identity cards and visas.

The templates derived from these images will be used for automated matching purposes, but the retention of images as well means the system could function as a national database of fingerprints. An IPS spokesperson said the NBIS will be "separate and distinct" from Ident1, the existing national police fingerprint database.

Data from NBIS "will only be provided to the police in limited circumstances set out in legislation", added a Home Office spokesperson. "These include the prevention and detection of crime or where it is in the interests of national security, and will be conditional on conditions detailed in regulations being met."

The microchips within identity cards and passports will hold only two fingerprint templates, and a match of just one of those prints will be enough to verify the identity of a card, passport or visa holder, such as at a border.

However, the NBIS will retain all 10 fingerprints. The Home Office said using fewer than all the prints in the application process would allow applicants to attempt multiple applications by using different fingers. It will also help those with harder to scan fingers, such as the elderly.

"If the fingerprints are of poor quality on some fingers then fingerprints on other fingers can still be used to distinguish one person from another," the spokesperson added.

Both the Conservative and Liberal Democrat parties intend to scrap identity cards if they enter government, with a general election due by June 2010. However, the NBIS would still be required at something like its current size if a new government decided to maintain the current policy of adding fingerprints to passports - something the UK is not required to do, but which is being implemented by the Schengen group of European countries.

In an interview in April, Identity and Passport Service executive director Bill Crothers told GC News that if a future government decides against adding fingerprints to passports, the biometric database would still be needed although at a smaller scale to replace the UK Border Agency's Immigration and Asylum Fingerprint System, which already has four million entries from visa applicants.

This article was originally published at Kable.

Kable's GC weekly is a free email newsletter covering the latest news and analysis of public sector technology. To register click here.

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