The Police National Database of up to 15 million criminals, suspects and victims has been switched on.
The system was implemented by IT services firm Logica under a £75 million contract, and is based on an Oracle database with Oracle BEA middleware and additional applications from Northgate and Sungard. It runs on Sun hardware, with a master data management system from supplier Initiate, and a Microsoft FAST search engine.
The system is aimed at allowing police forces across the country to share information effectively. Before the PND went live, forces were unable to search or access intelligence or other information held on another force's local systems.
Its creation was recommended seven years ago by the Bichard Inquiry, which found that a lack of data sharing had led to Ian Huntley, the killer of school girls Jessica Chapman and Holly Wells, being allowed to work as a school caretaker in spite of serious allegations against him in other parts of the country.
The system remains controversial, however. Vocal campaigners have said they are not convinced the information is fully secure, raising particular concerns over the information on victims as well as potential suspects who have not even been charged.
The National Police Improvement Authority insisted that the database, which has been in testing for seven months, is the "most secure police system developed to date", with tough smart-card based security and role-based access controls. Only around 12,000 of the UK's 200,000 police can access the database, the Financial Times reported.
Jennie Cronin, NPIA director, said: "Each force will decide for themselves who will use this and what information they share."