IBM Calls for an End of Facial Recognition Technology Over Racial Profiling Fears

By Shani Saxon Jun 09, 2020

IBM CEO Arvind Krishna announced on Monday (June 8) that his company will no longer use facial recognition technology in their products, The Guardian reports. In a letter sent to Congress, Krishna called for “a national dialogue” addressing questions around responsible, fair use of the technology by law enforcement. “IBM would like to work with Congress in pursuit of justice and racial equity, focused initially in three key policy areas: police reform, responsible use of technology and broadening skills and educational opportunities," he wrote.

According to The Guardian, IBM’s change of heart regarding the use of facial recognition coincides with growing scrutiny over technology companies entering contracts with police departments “amid violent crackdowns on peaceful protest across America.”

After explaining that IBM will cease using facial recognition or analysis software, Krishna said in his letter to Congress: “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. 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.”

In an effort to promote racial equality in the U.S., Krishna proposed the following policy changes in his letter to Congress:

Police reform—new federal rules should hold police more accountable for misconduct.

Responsible technology policies—technology can increase transparency and help police protect communities but must not promote discrimination or racial injustice.

Expanding opportunity—training and education for in-demand skills is key to expanding economic opportunity for communities of color.

Some people, however, are not buying IBM’s motives for backing out of the facial recognition game, The Guardian reports. Critics note the company was already trailing other tech corporations in the race to sell facial recognition capabilities. They also accuse IBM’s letter of leaving “loopholes” because “it reserves the right to sell facial recognition technology for specific purposes, for example, as well as to re-sell the same technology from other vendors as part of its large consulting business,” according to The Guardian.

Civil rights advocates have long criticized the use of facial recognition services because of its ability to quietly track large portions of communities of color. As Colorlines previously reported, activists accused Amazon Ring’s partnership with police departments of “[threatening] civil liberties, privacy and civil rights, and [existing] without oversight or accountability.” More than 30 activist organizations published a joint letter in October 2019 explaining their concerns about Amazon’s technology. 

Colorlines reported:

Amazon’s technology creates a seamless and easily automated experience for police to request and access footage without a warrant, and then store it indefinitely. In the absence of clear civil liberties and rights-protective policies to govern the technologies and the use of their data, once collected, stored footage can be used by law enforcement to conduct facial recognition searches, target protesters exercising their First Amendment rights, teenagers for minor drug possession, or shared with other agencies like ICE or the FBI.

Critics aside, IBM’s public stance is the strongest to date from a major tech corporation over the misuse of facial recognition technology, notes The Guardian. 

Click here to read Krishna’s entire letter to Congress.