IBM terminates facial recognition technology business

IBM terminates facial recognition technology business
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IBM will no longer offer general purpose facial recognition or analysis software, the company's CEO said in a letter to some members of Congress Monday.

"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," company CEO Arvind Krishna wrote to Sens. Cory BookerCory BookerThe first Southern state legalizes marijuana — what it means nationally Top Democrat calling for expansion of child care support When it comes to the Iran nuclear deal, what's a moderate Democrat to do? MORE (D-N.J.) and Kamala HarrisKamala HarrisHouse Budget Committee 'not considering' firing CBO director Former North Carolina governor set to launch Senate bid How to manage migration intensified by climate change MORE (D-Calif.) and Reps. Hakeem JeffriesHakeem Sekou JeffriesDemocrats vow to go 'bold' — with or without GOP Anger over anti-Asian violence, rhetoric rips through Capitol Democratic majority shrinks, but finds unity MORE (D-N.Y.), Jerrold NadlerJerrold (Jerry) Lewis Nadler10 Democrats join NAACP lawsuit against Trump On The Trail: How marijuana went mainstream House passes bills providing citizenship path for Dreamers, farmworkers MORE (D-N.Y.) and Karen BassKaren Ruth BassShocking killing renews tensions over police 10 Democrats join NAACP lawsuit against Trump Lobbying world MORE (D-Calif.).

“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.”


IBM will no longer release software packages or develop, create, research or sell facial recognition software itself, according to the company. 

While facial recognition technology has improved substantially, concerns remain.

Civil rights groups have panned the technology as unwarranted surveillance, while multiple studies have found that it tends to misidentify women and people of color at comparatively higher rates than men and white people.

The National Institute of Standards and Technology, a federal agency within the Department of Commerce, released an expansive study in December finding that the majority of facial recognition systems have “demographic differentials” that can worsen their accuracy based on a person’s age, gender or race.

IBM has tried to address those concerns by releasing a public data set in an attempt to reduce bias in their software.


Krishna wrote in his letter Monday that while technology could be used to increase police transparency, facial recognition could also be misused.

The letter comes as demonstrations against police brutality spurred on by the death of George Floyd at the hands of officers in Minneapolis continue to erupt across the country.

Protesters and civil rights activists have raised concerns that law enforcement may be using facial recognition to identify those participating in the peaceful demonstrations.

Krishna also expressed support in his letter for police reforms, including ending qualified immunity.

He also suggested that Congress should expand opportunities for people, especially people of color, by offering more training grants.