Home Office plans new national police ‘facial-matching’ service after signing £50m deal for biometrics platform

Department picks IBM for five-year contract to provide underlying matching platform and progresses plan to develop nationwide tool to enable law enforcement to compare faces, with suppliers invited to engage

The Home Office has signed a £50m-plus contract for a nationwide platform for processing biometric data and begun progressing plans to create a new specialist “facial-matching” service for use by police forces around the country.

The department is currently nine years into the delivery of a £1.2bn programme intended to unite the UK’s biometric databases – covering law enforcement, the intelligence services, and borders and immigration operations – into a single system and management structure. The project is scheduled to complete delivery by the end of March 2025.

A key strand of the new unified platform will be a new biometric matcher platform, which will include software tools to support “processing logic… workflow rules… and a service interface used by external subsystems”, according to procurement documents.

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IBM has been appointed to a five-year, £54.7m deal to deliver this technology – as well as the accompanying “infrastructure platform to host and provide the computing capacity” for the matching software. The deal came into effect last Friday and, over the coming months, existing discrete services will be decommissioned as data is migrated into new centralised biometrics databases.

One of the final phases of the long-term unification programme will involve the creation and implementation of new technology enabling police to compare and match facial image data.

The Home Office has outlined its intent to go to market later this year seeking a commercial partner to support delivery of the facial-matching service. In the meantime, the department is seeking to gain input from potential suppliers and, in partnership with techUK, is hosting an engagement event on 23 August.

According to the industry body’s website, the Home Office hopes to work with its chosen provider to create a minimum viable product – allowing “retrospective facial recognition” – in spring of next year. In the longer-term future, the technology could be further developed to enable live face-matching capability by officers using mobile devices.

“Mobile biometric services could be extended into the modality of face, exploiting the ubiquitous imaging capability now omnipresent in smartphones, together with apps and infrastructure which is already integrated with the BSG [Home Office Biometric Services Gateway],” according to the techUK event listing. “This use case of facial search is referred to by policing as operator-initiated facial recognition and is currently amongst the prioritised requirements of policing to maximise the benefits of facial-recognition technology.”

Suppliers wishing to participate in the event – either virtually or at techUK’s London headquarters – have until 14 August to register to do so.

Sam Trendall

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