IBM changes face with $70m UK Gov recognition software deal

image of black and white surveillance cameras | IBM

IBM has signed a five-year contract with the UK Home Office to support its biometric system for law enforcement and immigration services.

In this partnership, worth $69.8m (£54.7m), IBM will implement a Matcher Service Platform (MSP) that will support biometric matching functions using fingerprint and face biometrics. The platform includes a ‘service bus’ to facilitate biometric transaction processing logic, biometric workflow rules, integration of matching engine software (MES) and a service interface used by external subsystems.

The company will transition and manage the existing Matcher Platform, which was built by Fujitsu, and will create new search capabilities and the decommissioning of legacy algorithms for a police service biometric data service and immigration and asylum biometric information system. Additionally, as part of the contract the company will also create an infrastructure platform to host and provide computing capacity for these biometric services. The initial five-year contract also comes with the option to extend by a further three years.

However, this deal has perhaps placed Big Blue in hot water following a joint investigation between Liberty Investigates and The Verge, as the contract with the British Government comes just three years after IBM had claimed to turn its back on the technology, due to it being inconsistent with its ‘trust and transparency values’.

In IBM’s earlier promise, Arvind Krishna, CEO, wrote a letter addressed to Senators Booker and Harris and Representatives Bass, Jeffries and Nadler, which stated: “IBM no longer offers general purpose IBM facial recognition or analysis software. 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. We believe now is the time to begin a national dialogue on whether and how facial recognition technology should be employed by domestic law enforcement agencies.”

Similarly, in 2020, it was widely reported that Amazon and Microsoft followed suit days after IBM’s letter in the US, with both companies pledging to ban sales of their facial-recognition technology to police.

It looks unlikely for now that IBM’s latest move will begin another such tech-firm shift, as, following this latest deal announcement from IBM, both firms have confirmed that their bans are still in place.

Dr Matt Mahmoudi, AI and human rights researcher at Amnesty International, has stated in response to the deal: “The research across the globe is clear; there is no application of one-to-many facial recognition that is compatible with human rights law, and companies – including IBM – must therefore cease its sale, and honor their earlier statements to sunset these tools, even and especially in the context of law and immigration enforcement where the rights implications are compounding.”

Hearing from IBM, the firm has stated this move doesn’t mark a U-turn around IBM principles. When asked for a comment, an IBM spokesperson told ERP Today: “IBM’s work with the Home Office is consistent with our 2020 commitment on facial recognition. Our company does not support the use of facial recognition for mass surveillance, racial profiling or other human rights violations.”