IBM stops work on facial recognition because of human rights concerns

IBM stops work on facial recognition because of human rights concerns

The backlash to facial recognition in governments is expanding to corporate heavyweights. IBM chief Arvind Krishna has sent a letter (via Axios and CNBC) to Congress in which he reveals that the company has left its “general-purpose” facial recognition company. The company “strongly opposes” the use of the technology for surveillance, racial profiling, and “violations of fundamental human rights and freedoms,” said Krishna. Instead, he suggested that now is the time for a “national dialogue” on not only how facial recognition should be used, but whether it should be used at all.

The CEO stated that AI is a “powerful tool” for law enforcement, but that its use should be controlled through controlled testing for bias. He also insisted on technology that improves accountability and transparency, such as body cameras.

Krishna’s letter was part of a wider call to Congress to advocate wider police accountability and to implement reforms, including some that were already part of the recently introduced Justice in Policing Act of 2021.

The movement comes in the midst of protests about police brutality and discrimination, and not long after Clearview AI’s facial recognition raised privacy and bias issues. More than one report has indicated that facial recognition systems can be biased against non-whites and women, especially if the training data contains relatively few people from those groups. And while some facial recognition systems may only correlate faces with publicly available data, there are concerns that this can be used to detect and generate profiles that can be used to intimidate people or restrict their true privacy.

As CNBC noted, it is relatively easy for IBM to withdraw when facial recognition does not make a major contribution to the outcome. Media attention can be just as important as anything else. However, IBM is still a big company, and it often cooperates with governments. This could encourage other providers to follow suit, and could even encourage some potential customers to drop face recognition altogether.

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