Select Committee on Home Affairs Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence

Annex 31


1.  The Immigration and Nationality Directorate (IND) has routinely fingerprinted all asylum seekers and certain other specific categories of immigration offenders since 1993, the purpose being to try and satisfactorily establish the identity of those encountered and to prevent multiple applications and fraudulent claims for benefit support.

  2.  A manual database was established in the Asylum Fingerprint Bureau (AFB) and fingerprint experts were recruited from New Scotland Yard to run the Bureau and carry out fingerprint verifications for IND. With time and the increasing numbers of asylum seekers arriving in the United Kingdom, however, AFB was overwhelmed and no longer able to cope with the demand placed upon it. The current backlog of fingerprint forms for processing runs to around 35,000 and routine verification confirming a match can run to five months. The introduction of further legislation later this year, allowing for the fingerprinting of additional non-asylum categories of individuals, will increase the pressure on the current system. The system was outdated and inefficient and a solution had to be found to the problem.

  3.  In February 1999, the Immigration and Asylum Fingerprint (IAF) Project Team was established and tasked with identifying just such a solution. Automated Fingerprint Identification Systems (AFIS) are currently in operation worldwide. This offered the most likely solution to overcome the difficulties facing the AFB and to enable IND to move away from the capture of fingerprint data by the ink and paper method and to establish an electronic database.

  4.  The IAF Project Team employed the services of an external consultant, an expert in AFIS technology. A fingerprint specialist was also brought in and along with two experienced immigration personnel work began on identifying the most viable system for IND to procure.

  5.  As the Metropolitan Police were already developing their own National AFIS, being introduced throughout England and Wales at the present time, the project team established points of contact within that organisation. The Police Information Technology Organisation (PITO) and the fingerprint bureau in New Scotland Yard gave valuable advice and guidance on procurement of a new system. That liaison continues to this day and the NAFIS project team has also liased closely with IND. A visit was also made to Surrey police to study their new AFIS in operation.

  6.  Having identified that AFIS was the way forward, the project team had to try and configure IND's requirement. Around 50 per cent of all fingerprints taken within the United Kingdom are taken at the Asylum Screening Unit (ASU) in Croydon. This is where the majority of asylum seekers go to claim asylum. The remainder of the data is captured at the major ports around the country and additionally from those individuals fingerprinted by enforcement officers in the field. The project team recommended that each required a slightly different solution and that establishing the central system and database was the priority. Installation of the remainder of the system would be phased in when the central operation was fully functional.

  7.  The following is an outline of how the project team envisages the new system will be configured:


  Livescan machines will be introduced to the ASU in Croydon

  (Livescan is the method of capturing fingerprint data without the use of ink and paper. Data is captured through placing the fingers on an optical scanner. This is transmitted to the central database for automatic search and depending on the demand on the system at any particular time of day, searches should take no more than a few minutes.)

  The central database will be situated in AFB.

  AFB will conduct verifications of any matches.


  The 16 major ports around the country will continue to fingerprint by the ink and paper method. They will, however, transmit that data electronically to the central database by flatbed scanner linked to a local workstation. Searches will take no more than a few minutes.

  (To justify Livescan at the major ports we had, among other factors, to demonstrate that they would give value for money. Given the cost—£30,000 to £50,000 each—and the fact that even the busiest port fingerprints a daily average of only 20 individuals, no case could be made for their installation.)

  AFB will conduct verifications on any matches and notify the port.


  To cover the remaining smaller ports and Local Enforcement Offices (LEOs), 82 mobiles units will be supplied. These will enable officers to capture two prints for electronic checking with the central database. The mobile connection will be through either a laptop or mobile telephone solution.

  In the event of a possible match or where fingerprints would normally be stored, all 10 fingerprints must be captured and transmitted to AFB.

  8.  Following the production of a Business Case, the IAF Project Board gave approval to proceed to procurement. This process began in October 1999. By March 2000 the number of potential suppliers to submit full proposals to supply a new system had reduced to three. Best and Final Offers (BAFOs) are due to be received by 8 May and following evaluation and selection of the successful supplier, contract award will take place on 22 May.

  9.  The first hardware is expected in Croydon by mid June and full implementation should be complete between December 2000 and March 2001.

  10.  In evaluating AFIS, the project team has liaised closely with European partners, visiting systems in operation in Belgium, Norway, Italy and Finland. Site visits have also taken place to France and Switzerland and close contacts have been established with the technical engineers working on the EURODAC project. In addition, visits have been made to Ohio and California, meeting with the Bureau of Criminal Identification and Investigation (BCI) and the Anaheim Police Department respectively.

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Prepared 31 January 2001