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Mix of politics in U.S and UK with investment in biometrics draws concern and criticism


A pair of biometrics companies are receiving attention for the political connections of investors.

Two investors who run private equity firm JRJ Group, which is a backer of iProov, have also made five-figure donations to members of the Change UK political party, according to BuzzFeed. The relevance is that iProov provides the biometric technology for the UK Home Office’s EU Exit Settlement Scheme app, while Change UK supports remaining in the UK.

In a Forbes article which suggested iProov and other companies are “salivating at the prospect” of Brexit occurring in 2019, Privacy International representative Edin Omanovic compared the app “to border guards knocking on every door in the U.K. and forcing EU nationals to show documentation.”

“Such use of biometrics across our lives is incredibly dangerous: From proving our status to the Home Office to doing the shopping, it is becoming increasingly ubiquitous,” Omanovic says. “The data generated by all of this can build an incredibly detailed and sensitive picture of our lives, and without strong protections will be used for a host of reasons without our control, from credit checks to predicting the risk that we will commit a crime. It may start with forcing foreigners to hand over their biometrics, but it certainly won’t stop there if people allow it to.”

Buzzfeed also reports that remain-supporting MP David Lammy warned the Home Office’s EU Settlement Scheme could turn into another Windrush scandal, in which British people were wrongly detained, denied legal rights, and in some cases deported.

In a case with much more direct human rights implications, The Intercept reports that Bohai Harvest, an investment firm with presidential candidate Joe Biden’s son Hunter Biden on its Board of Directors, bought into Megvii and its Face++ facial recognition business as part of a 2017 funding round. Megvii was recently accused of participating in the repressive surveillance network used by China in Xinjiang Province and elsewhere to track the country’s Muslim minority.

Other major investors in Megvii after a recent funding round include the Bank of China and Alibaba Group.

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