IBM said Monday it would no longer offer facial recognition technology and oppose any use of such software by police forces for mass surveillance or racial profiling.
The company’s chief executive, Arvind Krishna, wrote a letter to Congress urging the responsible use of technology amid ongoing ongoing protests following the death of George Floyd. Demonstrators around the U.S. have issued renewed calls for systemic change and an end to police brutality.
Such calls, Krishna wrote, should “encourage and advance uses of technology that bring greater transparency and accountability to policing.”
“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,” the company said in a letter to Congress. “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.”
The move, while significant in the tech space, is largely symbolic, The New York Times notes. IBM had an active role in facial recognition development but the technology is not a core component of its business.
Facial recognition technology has come under fire by critics who warn such software could be used as a type of mass surveillance. The Verge notes there are a bevy of privacy issues linked to such products, as well as questions about how accurate they can be. IBM itself built a new database of a million faces last year in an effort to improve the diversity used by artificial intelligence systems amid reports some of the technology could show bias or have difficulty recognizing darker faces.
Despite the concerns, some companies, including Amazon, have pushed their own software to police departments, saying it could help law enforcement in investigations.
“Amazon Rekognition is primed for abuse in the hands of governments,” a coalition of civil rights groups led by the American Civil Liberties Union wrote to Jeff Bezos in 2018 of the company’s own facial recognition software. “This product poses a grave threat to communities, including people of color and immigrants, and to the trust and respect Amazon has worked to build.”
On Monday, IBM’s Krishna said the demonstrations following Floyd’s death underscored “that the fight against racism is as urgent as ever” and urged Congress to take action to rein in police misconduct.
“We offer these suggestions in the constructive spirit of problem-solving that has always defined our company and its people,” Krishna wrote. “We realize these measures are only a beginning, but IBM wants to help advance this nation’s pursuit of equity and justice and we stand ready to work with you to advance policies that will help unify our country and advance our national purpose.”