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The Mapping Project


International Business Machines Corporation, or IBM, is a multinational technology company which provides data organization technologies to the Israeli government, US police forces, US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), and the US military. IBM also provides broad support to Israeli startup companies. The company has a long and disturbing history of support racist regimes.

IBM's early history of providing record-keeping tools for white supremacist regimes

Core to IBM's founding was the Hollerith machine, a mechanical tabulator developed in the 19th century by Herman Hollerith, and which was used in the US to record people’s race and sex on a large scale for purposes of criminalization.

Other racist regimes have also used IBM's machines. IBM has infamously supplied Hollerith machines to Nazi Germany, which were used to keep track of captive held in the death and slave labor camps. IBM even created custom-made punch cards for the Nazis to record various "racial" features of Jewish and Polish captives. As the Los Angeles Times reported,

At Dachau alone there were approximately 24 IBM sorters, tabulators and printers. Nazi personnel had to be trained by IBM staff in how to use the tabulators, sorters and other Hollerith machines. Salespersons and officials from IBM Germany and IBM subsidiaries in Europe, in turn, would come to New York for training, sometimes at significant expense to IBM USA.

Nazi personnel collected information on punch cards such as whether someone was Jewish or gay, what skills could be exploited for slave labor, and whether a prisoner had been exterminated or escaped.

In 1937, IBM president Thomas J. Watson personally received the "order of merit" distinction from Adolf Hitler in recognition of IBM's contributions to the Nazi regime. 

IBM has continued to enable racist oppression. Starting in 1952, IBM began selling its punch card tabulating machines to the South Africa apartheid regime through the IBM-South Africa subsidiary. IBM's products became integral to the apartheid regime's "identity document," also known as the "Book of Life" document (not to be confused with passbooks), which listed a person's "racial" classification (e.g., "White Person" versus "Cape Coloured"). This racial population register was managed using IBM's machines. As Richard Leonard describes in a 1978 report "Computers in South Africa: A Survey of US Companies", IBM confirmed its role in the apartheid population registry, and had even bid on computerizing the passbooks but lost out to a British competitor company:

The Department of Interior has been preparing the "book of life" identity document to be used for South African Whites, Coloureds, and Asians. This agency is using two IBM 370/158 computers and IBM has admitted that its computers are being used for the "book of life" program. IBM also admits that it had bid for the program to computerize the "passbook," the central instrument for imposing apartheid on Africans. It lost out to ICL, the British company. According to IBM its involvement with the "book of life" does not constitute support for apartheid or the abridgement of human rights,33 but this claim cannot be sustained in light of the importance of identity documents in a police state based on race.

Leonard's report describes the utility of computerized record-keeping, which IBM provides, for the apartheid regime:

By computerizing its systems, however, the white regime can keep local apartheid records securely-stored in central computers, ready to be put into use when the need arises. The Bantustans represent the ultimate goal of apartheid: the dispossession of the African majority to be accomplished by forcing them to become citizens of "independent" bantustans comprising only 13% of the country. The administrations of two bantustans, Boputhatswana and Gazankulu are using IBM System 3/10 computers, while the administrations of the Ciskei and the Transkei are using British ICL 2903 computers

Over the years, Black South Africans have attempted to sue IBM and other US corporations complicit in South Africa's apartheid regime for reparations, but in 2016 the US Supreme Court struck down their appeal.

(IBM computers, as Leonard's report describes, were also used by the apartheid regime in the Pelindaba atomic research facility – originally intended for making nuclear weapons – for assisting with "reactor development" and "recording and controlling the industrial use of radioactive materials.") 

Supporting the Israeli regime's efforts to "manage" and divide Palestinians

Today, IBM applies its record-keeping technologies for running yet another racial population register: the central database of Israel’s Population, Immigration, and Borders Authority.

As reported by AFSC Investigate, this IBM-driven central database of the Israeli regime includes the Biometric Population Registry, which the Israeli government uses to document the ethnic and religious identities as well as the geographical residencies of the different peoples who live under its control. The Israeli government records information from its Biometric Population Registry onto government-issued ID cards which all residents must carry, and uses this information to streamline its system of legalized apartheid, through which Israel denies equal rights and freedoms to Palestinians relative to Jewish Israelis, while granting tiered levels of rights and freedoms to different Palestinians relative to one another based on geography – '48 Palestinians (Palestinians with Israeli citizenship), Palestinian with "residency" in East Jerusalem, Palestinians in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, Palestinians under Israeli siege in the Gaza Strip, and Palestinians who were made into refugees by Israel's colonial violence and now live outside of historic Palestine.

This Biometric Population Registry, which IBM helps run, makes it possible for the Israeli state to organize population information on the broad scale necessary in order to systematically grant Jewish Israelis (including those living in its West Bank and East Jerusalem settlements) full rights and freedoms, while subjecting Palestinians to a tiered system of more limited rights and freedoms. The Registry enables to Israeli government to curtail Palestinians' ability to move freely across their land (forcing Palestinians to walk and drive on separate and unequal roads and walkways), to limit where Palestinians can live, to deny Palestinians access to social services, to deny Palestinians the ability to marry loved ones and reunify their families, and to force many Palestinians to face trial for alleged "legal infractions" in Israeli military courts (whereas all Jewish Israelis are tried by a panel of peers in civil courts, Palestinians in the Israeli-occupied West Bank are tried in Israeli military courts which have a conviction rate of 99.7%), and more. In addition to curtailing the rights and freedoms of Palestinians relative to the rights and freedoms of Jewish Israelis, Israel's Biometric Population Registry facilities the (intentional) fragmentation of the Palestinian people – between '48 Palestinians (Palestinians with Israeli citizenship), Palestinians with "residency" in East Jerusalem, Palestinians in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, Palestinians in the Israeli-blockaded Gaza Strip, and Palestinian refugees living outside of historic Palestine. Israel's fragmentation of the Palestinian people into these separate groups with tiered rights and freedoms relative to one another is part of an intentional Israeli state effort to prevent and disrupt unity across the Palestinian people, unity which has the proven potential to upend Israel's system of colonization, resource theft, and legalized apartheid. This Biometric Population Registry IBM helps run is the technological backbone which makes it possible for this Israeli system of tiered rights and freedoms based on identity and geography to function, and function with efficiency. 

In addition to operating this central database, IBM maintains multiple facilities and offices in '48 Palestine ("Israel"), helping sustain and support the Zionist project economically. Moreover, IBM frequently buys up Israeli startup companies. IBM even runs an initiative called "IBM Alpha Zone," through which IBM aims to cultivate Israeli startup companies. IBM boasts that Israeli startups who participate in IBM Alpha Zone "have access to mentorships, technical training and support, and the IBM infrastructure," adding, "The IBM Alpha Zone accelerator includes office space and the resources of the IBM Global Entrepreneurs Program." As of December 23, 2021, IBM Alpha Zone has trained or supported 103 Israeli startup companies. One of the Israeli startups trained by IBM, DigitalOwl, collaborates with Israel's secret police, the Shabak, through a Tel-Aviv University program called Xcelerator, which aims to foster collaborations between the Shabak and computing startup companies. As reported by Insurtech Israel News, "Digital Owl is a graduate of the Israel Security Agency and Tel Aviv University’s The Xcelerator, the prestigious Fusion LA Accelerator, and the world’s largest InsurTech program, Plug and Play in Silicon Valley." In addition to bolstering the Zionist project economy, IBM's broad scale support Israeli start-ups provides ideological support for the Israeli state's ongoing effort to "brand Israel" as a "startup nation" and a hub of "innovation," in an attempt to whitewash over the realities of Israel's violent colonial rule over Palestinians and systematic theft of Palestinian land and resources.

Support for US police, US ICE, and the US military

In collaboration with the software company i2, IBM developed COPLINK, an expansive police database which has been called "google for police officers." According to IBM, COPLINK enables "law enforcement agencies of any size to access one of the world's largest networks of law enforcement data comprising more than a billion shareable documents from the Cloud." In practice, US police forces use COPLINK to organize and share data across different wings of the carceral state. Not unlike the central database IBM operates for Israel’s Population, Immigration, and Borders Authority, IBM's COPLINK database enables US police forces to organize and integrate information on the broad scale necessary to carry out their regimes of criminalization and punishment of Black, Brown, Muslim, Indigenous, and/or working class peoples.

As reported by The Appeal in 2018: 

In Massachusetts’s version of COPLINK, 25 police agencies across the state automatically feed almost all the data from their records management systems — including arrests, complaints, and citation reports — into COPLINK, according to the documents. Databases from another 13 police departments, in addition to the state’s Department of Correction, Parole Board, and sex offender registry, were being integrated into the program as of last year ... the system also intakes accident reports, parking tickets, and field interview notes from local police departments.

In a 2016 email promoting an upcoming training on how to use COPLINK, Training Program Coordinator for the Massachusetts State Police Paul J. Upton described COPLINK as: 

[A]n Internet based database of databases that collects and updates information from the records management systems of more than 230 agencies including the Board of Probation and the Registry of Motor Vehicles. This database includes department reports and booking photos from disparate local and State Police RMS networks and deposits them into a single, searchable database. It allows you to search the entire database for reports from a single agency or a group of agencies. In addition to incident reports, you can also find booking photos to create mug books or photo arrays.  It also allows the user to determine associations between persons, locations, vehicles and phone numbers. Law Enforcement Personnel from more than 300 agencies across the state have access to more than 5,000,000 documents and booking photos through Coplink.

As of 2016, the following Massachusetts police departments were submitting field interviews, arrest, complaint, accident, and citation reports, and other information into COPLINK for other agencies using the platform to view, as well as using COPLINK to access this information from other agencies using the platform:

As of 2016, the following Massachusetts police departments were in the process of integrating their field interviews, arrest, complaint, accident, and citation reports, and other information into COPLINK, and are presumably now regularly submitting this information into COPLINK as well as using the platform to access this information from other agencies using the platform:

Moreover, agents from US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) regularly search COPLINK for information that could help them to locate migrants sought for detention and/or deportation, meaning that police departments utilizing COPLINK are making their information available not only to one another but also to ICE. As reported by The Appeal: 

[ICE agents] have direct access to the Massachusetts version of the COPLINK system, which receives records from Massachusetts’s Registry of Motor Vehicles, Board of Probation, and at least local 25 police agencies ... Department of Homeland Security (DHS) data-sharing agreements obtained by The Appeal through the Freedom of Information Act make clear that ICE agents can access COPLINK “in the same manner” as local law enforcement for immigration enforcement purposes. The constantly updated police records in COPLINK, arising from day-to-day police encounters, can be indispensable for ICE HSI [Homeland Security Investigations] agents, who often need to find addresses, cars, phone numbers, and associates that are not necessarily housed in federal or private sector databases ... They can help ICE officers conduct background research on employees before a workplace enforcement action or when planning logistics for a gang raid.

The US Military and US weapons developers have also utilized technologies modeled directly off of COPLINK to advance and streamline their program of death, destruction, and US global hegemony. According to a 2011 article in ComputerWorld, the US Army spent $9.6 million to obtain a license to use the platform's technology to improve the Army's "Distributed Common Ground Systems -- Army (DCGS-A) intelligence sharing system," while weapons manufacturer Northrop Grumman "folded i2's Coplink into a system it is providing to the Navy to track criminal information from multiple sources." 

IBM sold COPLINK to Forensic Logic in 2017.

Complicity in displacement ('gentrification)

IBM maintains an expansive presence in Cambridge, MA through its IBM Thomas J. Watson Research Center. By gobbling up Cambridge real estate and moving its generally wealthier workforce into the city and surrounding areas, IBM (along with other university, biomedical, and tech giants) contributes to rapidly rising housing, rental, and general living costs in the area (see figure below), which are leaving long-time residents increasingly unable to afford to remain in the communities they have called home for years if not decades. In addition to its Watson Research Center in Cambridge, in 2022 IBM began leasing a new 150,000 square foot property from Anchor Line Partners in Lowell, MA.

(Image source: here)

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