Change UK’s Top Donors Are Funding A Firm Behind Facial Recognition Software Used To Register EU Citizens

    Exclusive: The facial recognition software has been compared to “border guards knocking on every door in the U.K. and forcing EU nationals to show documentation."

    PA Images

    The government's facial recognition app for registering European citizens after Brexit.

    Key donors to the Remain-supporting Change UK party are financial backers of a firm behind a controversial facial recognition software used to register EU citizens due to Brexit, BuzzFeed News can reveal.

    The government’s EU Exit: ID Document Check app — to which EU citizens upload identity documents and a photo of their face if they want to stay in the UK after Brexit — attracted widespread criticism from privacy campaigners when it was released by the Home Office last year.

    And in an unlikely Brexit irony, iProov, the company behind the app's facial recognition software, is being funded by Jeremy Isaacs and Roger Nagioff, two five-figure donors to Chuka Umunna and Change UK.

    The revelation will raise questions over why the pro-immigration, anti-Brexit Change UK party, which is attempting to reverse Brexit and maintain freedom of movement, has accepted donations from investors in a company which is profiting from stricter immigration laws after the UK leaves the EU.

    IProov says it uses face-matching software optimised for selfies so “genuine users enjoy a simple, reliable experience, whilst impersonations are prevented”.

    Campaign group Privacy International has compared the app to “border guards knocking on every door in the U.K. and forcing EU nationals to show documentation,” warning that “such use of biometrics across our lives is incredibly dangerous”.

    Remain-supporting MP David Lammy warned that the trial run of the government’s EU Settlement Scheme had put it “on track for another Home Office scandal on the scale of Windrush”.

    A recent Forbes profile said iProov was one of several companies “positively salivating at the prospect of Britain’s separation from the European Union”, reporting that the business would be “making millions from the Brexit immigration nightmare”.

    iProov’s CEO Andrew Bud said there are “many cases for tightening up border control without making life even more difficult for citizens.”

    Geoff Caddick / AFP / Getty Images

    Change UK MP Chuka Umunna

    iProov appears in the financial services portfolio of JRJ Group, the private equity firm run by Isaacs and Nagioff, where it is described as the “leading provider of biometric facial verification technology solutions”.

    iProov director Peter Sugarman is the chief operating officer of JRJ Group. According to iProov's most recent filing at Companies House, both Nagioff and the J Isaacs Charitable Trust are shareholders.

    In recent months, Isaacs has donated £10,000 to Change UK’s Chuka Umunna and another £10,000 to Luciana Berger. Nagioff has donated £10,000 to the central Change UK party.

    A Change UK spokesperson insisted its donors were aware of its party policy on Brexit and EU nationals. They said: “We are in favour [of] remaining in the European Union, and strongly against the stress and anxiety that Brexit is causing for EU nationals living in the UK — as our European elections campaign makes clear, and as all of our donors know.

    “We publish all of the donations we receive over £7,500 in line with the rules set out by the Electoral Commission. We received over 15,000 individual donations in the first six weeks of our launch. We are overwhelmed by the number of people who have taken the time to donate anything from £5 upwards to help change politics.”

    The spokesperson stressed that Isaacs had not donated to the central Change UK party but only to the offices of two of its senior MPs.

    iProov said in a statement: "iProov is the world leader in genuine presence assurance, to protect users against attempted identity theft simply, accessibly and securely. This capability is used within the Home Office's EU Settled Status App.

    "iProov’s technology is used in many different contexts. These include banking, finance, health care and travel. The Home Office is one of many customers served by iProov worldwide, both in the private and public sectors."

    JRJ Group was approached for comment.

    Alex Wickham is a senior reporter with BuzzFeed News and is based in London.

    Contact Alex Wickham at alex.wickham@buzzfeed.com.

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