IBM sues in fingerprints row

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The Independent Online
The British arm of IBM yesterday filed a pounds 19m counter-claim against 37 police forces, as part of a dispute over a collapsed fingerprint database.

The computer giant's action comes five months after the consortium of 37 forces announced that it would sue IBM for failing to provide a computerised fingerprint system that worked. The amount claimed has not been disclosed, but is thought to be in the region of pounds 10m.

IBM had supplied the police forces with the pounds 5m nationwide Automatic Fingerprint Recognition (AFR) system, designed to store and match the fingerprints of millions of criminals. Since its implementation in 1992 it had made 125,000 identifications.

But following a series of problems with the system, a dispute arose over how IBM serviced the network and in March the consortium terminated the contract and reverted to the old method of looking up fingerprints on paper cards.

A spokesman for Hampshire police, which has taken a leading role in the consortium, said last night that he was "not surprised" by the counter claim, which is scheduled for a hearing before the High Court in October. "We went to the High Court and we are claiming compensation there for loss of service." he said. "We have now awarded a contract to (US-based software and management company) Lockheed Martin. It should be up and running by the end of year."

A new national system organised by the Home Office is scheduled to eventually take over, but until then IBM thought it had the contract. "The consortium was committed to our service until 2001," said Mark Cleverley, who handles the "arrest and identification marketplace" for IBM UK.

Following the decision of the consortium, taken in March, to terminate the contract, IBM issued a statement saying the public had been "deprived of the benefits of this highly effective criminal detection system".