One of the world's largest IT companies. A major contractor for U.S. immigration authorities. Runs the discriminatory Israeli population registry and provides technologies to the Israeli military.
International Business Machines Corp (IBM) is one of the world’s largest and oldest computer and IT companies, with an annual revenue of $73.6 billion as of 2020.
Involvement in the Israeli Occupation of Palestine
IBM operates the central database of Israel’s Population, Immigration, and Borders Authority, which includes information on both citizens and non-citizens within Israel and the occupied Palestinian territory. The database’s main component is Israel’s biometric population registry, which records people’s ethnic and religious identity, and this information is recorded on government-issued ID cards, which all residents must carry by law.
This information is routinely used by Israel to discriminate between the different population groups under its control: Jewish citizens of Israel, including those living in illegal settlements in the occupied Palestinian and Syrian territories; Palestinian citizens of Israel; Palestinian residents of occupied East Jerusalem; West Bank Palestinians living under Israel’s military rule; West Bank Palestinians living under the jurisdiction of the Palestinian Authority; and Palestinian residents of the blockaded Gaza Strip. The database, and the ID system it powers, facilitates the fragmentation of Palestinian society; determines the legal jurisdiction Palestinians fall under (civilian vs. military law); and restricts their participation in the political system (who can vote and be elected), where they can live, work, and travel, who they can marry, and their access to government services. Since the database includes information about the population of the Gaza Strip, including people’s addresses, it may also allow the Israeli military to target Gaza Palestinians more efficiently.
IBM's system also records all of Israel’s border crossings, including Erez Crossing between Israel and Gaza and the Allenby Bridge Crossing between Israel and Jordan. Palestinians under Israel’s military occupation in the West Bank and Gaza Strip are only allowed to leave or enter the country through the Allenby Bridge Crossing.
IBM won this contract, worth about $240 million, in 2017, replacing DXC Technology, which inherited the contract from predecessors HP and Hewlett Packard Enterprise. The contract includes the management, maintenance, and operation of the system, as well as designing a new system, called Eitan, to replace the older HP-designed Aviv system. IBM assumed full responsibility for Israel's population registry in July 2019.
In addition, IBM subsidiary Red Hat has provided technologies to multiple units of the Israeli military. The Israeli military uses Red Hat's product Openshift to develop its “operational internet,” a cloud-based computerized network designed to increase the military’s lethality and effectiveness. This project is reportedly worth several millions of dollars.
While the system was developed in-house by the military’s Digital Transformation Administration, IBM plays a significant part of the project, with company employees working on it alongside military officials. Israeli military officers have described Red Had as a “business partner” and they routinely participate in Red Hat conferences to present their progress. Red Hat top executives have described the Israeli military as the company’s “partner” and “leading customer.” Red Hat has expressed “great pride” in enhancing the military’s capabilities.
The Israeli military is the main government agency administering the illegal military occupation of the Palestinian territory and the blockade of the Gaza Strip.
U.S. Deportations and Border Militarization
IBM has provided technologies to help U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) make deportation decisions. Between 2009-2016, IBM developed ICE’s Automated Threat Prioritization system, part of the agency’s “Secure Communities” deportation program. The system, for which IBM received $22.5 million, was designed to automate ICE’s decision-making processes. It collects information about immigrants’ criminal histories from federal, state, and local law enforcement to identify for ICE who to deport. For those of them who are incarcerated, IBM’s system identifies their release date and alerts ICE to deport them. The U.S. government discontinued the “Secure Communities” program in 2014, reinstated it in 2017, and canceled it again in 2021, replacing it with the “Priority Enforcement Program.”
IBM has also been identified as one of the leading contractors of U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), the agency in charge of monitoring and surveilling U.S. borders. Between 2005-2019, IBM had 145 contracts worth a total of $1.74 billion with CBP, making it the second-largest CBP contractor after Unisys. IBM’s contracts include migrating CBP’s computerized systems to a cloud platform and automating some of the agency’s databases.
Exiting the Facial Recognition Industry
Until 2020, IBM was one of the leading companies developing facial recognition technologies. In 2010, the company developed artificial intelligence (AI) search features for the New York Police Department by using the city’s CCTV footage. This dataset was then used by police to track people by hair color, facial hair, and skin tone. This technology was widely criticized for its racial and gender disparities in the accuracy of AI-powered facial recognition software.
In 2020, amidst mass protests in the wake of the police murder of George Floyd, IBM declared it is exiting the facial recognition industry. In a public letter sent by the company CEO to the U.S. Congress, IBM stated it will no longer provide “general purpose” facial recognition or analysis software. The company stated it “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 inconsistent with the company’s values.
IBM was the first large high-tech company to make such a statement, following mounting public pressure on tech companies to divest from mass surveillance projects that disproportionately affect communities of color. Within a few days after IBM’s statement, Microsoft and Amazon, who are also major facial recognition technology providers, made public statements on restricting their services, however not to the extent that IBM did.