The Home Office is to spend £30m-£40m on a mobile biometric identification service that will use fingerprint information to identify people at the scene of incidents, in real or near real time.
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The project, known as Midas, follows on from a mobile identification pilot using fingerprinting technology.
The government envisages a maximum of 10 suppliers of the technology in a contract that will last four years with the possibility of being extended a further two years.
An earlier scheme, Project Lantern, used a hand-held fingerprint device for police officers to check a person's identity at the scene of an incident.
It allowed police to check images of the subject's index fingerprints against a national database of 7.5 million prints. Results would usually be returned within a couple of minutes.
Estimates after the launch of Lantern suggested that police would have a nationwide mobile fingerprint system by 2010. It is likely an open market will be established for development of the device, providing a choice of equipment for forces.
Police have successfully used the technology for identifying disqualified drivers presenting false identification.
Lantern was first launched in November 2006, when 100 Lantern devices were deployed in 10 police forces.
It was expanded in March this year with an additional 100 deployed in a further 10 forces. Ninety per cent of officers believed the device saved at least 30 minutes per incident, according to a survey carried out after Lantern's launch.