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Fujitsu Set To Win UK Digital ID Contract Despite Past Failures

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In the UK, the authorities seem very forgiving when picking contractors with catastrophic past failures, and so even after Fujitsu fumbled the ball badly with the Post Office Horizon system – and promised not to bid for any new public sector jobs – it is now about to get another such contract.

However, Fujitsu in reality had no problem “pledging” not to bid again, because it was already made a preferred bidder to participate in the digital ID card project before it made the “pledge.”

And now likely another particularly highly sensitive system will go to the company – namely, digital ID cards are meant to replace government-issued documents like passports and driving licensees when verifying a phone owner’s age in places selling alcohol, or while using self-checkouts.

Fujitsu’s role will be to provide scanning software (likely an app) to read digital IDs for age information. The contract will span three years and is reported by The Telegraph to be under one million British pounds – however, it would open the door for Fujitsu to earn much more by selling hardware that uses the system.

The Horizon scandal in the UK, marked as one of the worst miscarriages of justice in the country’s legal history, involves the flawed Horizon IT system developed by Fujitsu and used by the Post Office for accounting. Between 1999 and 2015, the system falsely showed shortfalls in accounts, leading to the wrongful prosecution of over 900 sub-postmasters for theft and false accounting. The consequences were severe, including imprisonment, financial ruin, community shaming, and in some cases, suicides. Despite knowing about the system’s faults as early as 2010, the Post Office continued its prosecutions until 2015.

It wasn’t until a 2019 High Court ruling acknowledged the system’s bugs and errors, confirming a “material risk” that the shortfalls were caused by the system, that the scandal fully came to light. This led to the overturning of many wrongful convictions. As of early 2024, approximately 93 convictions have been overturned, and the government has allocated around £138 million to compensate some 2,700 affected sub-postmasters. However, the response has been criticized for being slow and insufficient, with many victims still awaiting justice. The ongoing Post Office Horizon IT Inquiry continues to investigate the matter, revealing issues with the Post Office’s disclosure practices and raising broader questions about organizational accountability and legal ethics.

The Horizon scandal was a slow moving train-wreck, plagued with errors and glitches ever since it was launched in 1999 and over the following six years, during which more than 900 subpostmasters were falsely accused of theft, false accounting, and the like.

The key ruling in the “ongoing scandal” came in 2019, but it came back to haunt those involved this January, when it was revealed that new claims have been arriving.

And it was then that Fujitsu said it would “not bid again.” But it appears that work on digital ID cards will nevertheless be entrusted to the company.

Another point of interest is the not entirely clear situation regarding who is behind the ID scheme, and who is funding it. Formally, it’s a private company, the Proof of Age Standards Scheme (PASS), that has the age verification industry behind it.

That should mean that no taxpayer money will be spent here. But PASS is also “endorsed” by the UK Home Office and is “a de facto regulator,” say reports – while the contract states that the system is “in effect strategically important national infrastructure.”

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