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 Anthony BookerNew Jersey governor to announce state will move to mostly mail-in voting for November The Memo: Trump attacks on Harris risk backfiring On The Money: Pelosi, Mnuchin talk but make no progress on ending stalemate | Trump grabs 'third rail' of politics with payroll tax pause | Trump uses racist tropes to pitch fair housing repeal to 'suburban housewife' MORE (D-N.J.) and Kamala HarrisKamala HarrisOn The Money: Economists flabbergasted after Congress leaves with no deal | Markets rise as the economy struggles | Retail sales slow in July Trump touts NYC police union endorsement: 'Pro-cop all the way' USPS workers union endorses Biden, citing threat to postal service 'survival' MORE (D-Calif.) and Reps. Hakeem JeffriesHakeem Sekou JeffriesTrump says no Post Office funding means Democrats 'can't have universal mail-in voting' Jeffries on Senate coronavirus bill: 'Totally irrelevant' Gohmert tests positive for COVID-19 MORE (D-N.Y.), Jerrold NadlerJerrold (Jerry) Lewis NadlerBy questioning Barr, Democrats unmasked their policy of betrayal Chris Wallace: Barr hearing 'an embarrassment' for Democrats: 'Just wanted to excoriate him' Apple posts blowout third quarter MORE (D-N.Y.) and Karen BassKaren Ruth BassBlack women are ambitious — that's why we need more in office Bass on filling Harris's Senate spot: 'I'll keep all my options open' Newsom says he has already received a number of pitches for Harris's open Senate seat 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.”

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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.

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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.