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 BookerSenate Democrats reelect Schumer as leader by acclamation  Hill associations push for more diversity in lawmakers' staffs Sanders celebrates Biden-Harris victory: 'Thank God democracy won out' MORE (D-N.J.) and Kamala HarrisKamala HarrisKamala Harris calls nurse on Thanksgiving to express gratitude in fight against COVID-19 Trump campaign loses appeal over Pennsylvania race The Memo: Biden faces tough road on pledge to heal nation MORE (D-Calif.) and Reps. Hakeem JeffriesHakeem Sekou JeffriesHouse Democrats pick Aguilar as No. 6 leader in next Congress Nominated for another Speaker term, Pelosi says it's her last Katherine Clark secures No. 4 leadership spot for House Democrats MORE (D-N.Y.), Jerrold NadlerJerrold (Jerry) Lewis NadlerTop Republicans praise Trump's Flynn pardon Democratic impeachment leaders blast Trump's pardon of Flynn Democrats accuse GSA of undermining national security by not certifying Biden win MORE (D-N.Y.) and Karen BassKaren Ruth BassThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by the UAE Embassy in Washington, DC - Trump OKs transition; Biden taps Treasury, State experience Five House Democrats who could join Biden Cabinet Pressure grows on California governor to name Harris replacement 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.