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 BookerDefense & National Security — Military starts giving guidance on COVID-19 vaccine refusals Senators preview bill to stop tech giants from prioritizing their own products Blinken pressed to fill empty post overseeing 'Havana syndrome' MORE (D-N.J.) and Kamala HarrisKamala HarrisDemocrats' reconciliation bill breaks Biden's middle class tax pledge We have a presidential leadership crisis — and it's only going to get worse Blinken pressed to fill empty post overseeing 'Havana syndrome' MORE (D-Calif.) and Reps. Hakeem JeffriesHakeem Sekou JeffriesSinema in Arizona as Democrats try to get spending-infrastructure deal LIVE COVERAGE: Biden tries to unify divided House Democrats search for sweet spot below .5 trillion price tag MORE (D-N.Y.), Jerrold NadlerJerrold (Jerry) Lewis NadlerMore than 200 women, transgender inmates to be transferred from Rikers Island Alabama using COVID funds to build new prisons — is that Biden's vision? Alabama clears plan to use COVID-19 relief funds to build prisons MORE (D-N.Y.) and Karen BassKaren Ruth BassFirst senator formally endorses Bass in LA mayoral bid Bass receives endorsement from EMILY's List Photos of the Week: Congressional Baseball Game, ashen trees and a beach horse 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.