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IBM promised to back off facial recognition then signed a $69.8M contract to provide it

The Verge: “The company denies its new government deal enables ‘general purpose’ biometric surveillance. Human rights advocates disagree. IBM has returned to the facial recognition market — just three years after announcing it was abandoning work on the technology due to concerns about racial profiling, mass surveillance, and other human rights violations. In June 2020, as Black Lives Matter protests swept the US after George Floyd’s murder, IBM chief executive Arvind Krishna wrote a letter to Congress announcing that the company would no longer offer “general purpose” facial recognition technology. “The fight against racism is as urgent as ever,” he wrote. “IBM firmly opposes and will not condone uses of any technology, including facial recognition technology offered by other vendors, for mass surveillance, racial profiling, violations of basic human rights and freedoms, or any purpose which is not consistent with our values and Principles of Trust and Transparency.” Later that year, the company redoubled its commitment, calling for US export controls to address concerns that facial recognition could be used overseas “to suppress dissent, to infringe on the rights of minorities, or to erase basic expectations of privacy.” Despite these announcements, last month, IBM signed a $69.8 million (£54.7 million) contract with the British government to develop a national biometrics platform that will offer a facial recognition function to immigration and law enforcement officials, according to documents reviewed by The Verge and Liberty Investigates, an investigative journalism unit in the UK. A contract notice for the Home Office Biometrics Matcher Platform outlines how the project initially involves developing a fingerprint matching capability, while later stages introduce facial recognition for immigration purposes — described as “an enabler for strategic facial matching for law enforcement.” The final stage of the project is described as delivery of a “facial matching for law enforcement use-case.”

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