On tech support for Home Office control

Addressing the Police Federation conference is a tough gig for any politician, and it was there that Theresa May won her now-forgotten reputation for steeliness by taking her fight to the audience. But new Home Secretary Sajid Javid has made a conciliatory start, riffing on his personal links to the police and hinting at softened budget cuts to address rising violent crime.

In the aftermath of the Windrush scandal, politicians and officials are backpedalling hard on key tenets of the May era at the Home Office. As the hostile environment for illegal immigrants (now renamed the ‘compliant environment’) comes under extreme scrutiny, one of Javid’s first acts was to suspend data sharing between banks and the Home Office which supported immigration checks. Similarly, the unpopular international student survey administered by universities has been withdrawn.

Yet the overall direction of travel for Home Office policy is unchanged. It’s all about increasing control over domestic affairs, enabled by the continuing expansion of data collection and exploitation. And the public is arguably supportive: a recent survey showed a significant majority now in favour of ID cards, adding to an increasing perception that GOV.UK Verify – designed along civil libertarian principles – has proved a damp squib.

One of those key underpinning Home Office data collection systems is Automatic Number Plate Recognition (ANPR), the 14,000-strong network of roadside cameras used by over 40 police forces and law enforcement agencies. Many millions of records are stored every day, with around 1 vehicle in 50 triggering an alert – mostly for minor motoring offences, plus other more serious crimes. It’s a powerful tool with other potential applications in and outside of law enforcement. But the infrastructure is creaking and fragmented across forces and agencies, hence this week’s tender to support the creation of a single nationwide ANPR system.

BAE has already been working on the programme since 2017, providing client side support under a two-year contract worth £1.7m – £4.9m. This new opportunity to replace the existing team is worth a more generous £5m – £14m over two years. As the tender remarks with delightful understatement, “Providing a National ANPR System is a huge undertaking.” Those involved stand to gain insights into this strategically important piece of the UK’s critical national infrastructure.

(Originally published on Government Computing)

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