US group set to snatch fingerprint system

Simon Rogers reports

The u45 million tender decision on new national police fingerprint system Nafis is set to stir up controversy.

Indications from the Home Office are that the group which currently runs the system, led by IBM, has not won the tender. This will affect the consortium of 37 police forces which has contracted to run IBM software until 2001.

Home Office officials are understood to have narrowed the shortlist of 10 down to one – a US-based supplier to be announced in the next two weeks. Contracts are under negotiation for the system, which would be implemented before the 2001 deadline.

Last March the Home Office announced a shortlist of 10 candidates for the system, including the IBM bid made jointly with French supplier Sagem subsidiary Morpho and UK company Logica. The companies run the existing system with the Automatic Fingerprint Recognition (AFR) consortium, and it is also supplied to the eight police forces in Scotland.

In March, IBM managers said they would hold the AFR consortium to its contract which could leave a situation where two systems run in tandem. As The Lawyer went to press IBM refused to comment.

But Home Office officials confirm the situation. "IBM is not going to be winning this contract. There is just one supplier left in this contest," says one official.

Home Secretary Michael Howard launched the first national blueprint for police use of computer technology earlier this month, saying police would be able to "catch criminals by keyboard". "While there is still no substitute for good, straightforward police detective work in catching criminals, the computer is now as important as the legwork."

Police forces have tended to club together to set up their own systems amid scepticism about the speed with which the Home Office develops packages.

But Howard says the system will come on-line soon.

"Nafis will eventually supersede current fingerprint systems used in both the recognition and detection of offenders," he says.