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IBM drops facial recognition software amid racial profiling concerns

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IBM CEO Arvind Krishna has told the US Congress that the technology giant is no longer offering its facial recognition or analysis software and “firmly opposes technology that is used for mass surveillance, racial profiling and violations of basic human rights and freedoms.

Krishna on Monday sent the letter to Congress outlining detailed policy proposals to advance racial equality in America, which has seen widespread protests and demonstrations against the spate of recent killing of African-Americans, including that of George Floyd by a white police officer and also against repeated police brutality against the Black community.

Floyd, the 46-year-old victim from Houston, was handcuffed and pinned to the ground by the white police officer who kneeled on his neck as he gasped for breath on May 25 in Minneapolis.

Floyd’s death triggered nationwide violent protests with a section of the protesters resorting to looting and rioting across the country, leaving behind a trail of destruction.

“In September 1953, more than a decade before the passage of the Civil Rights Act, IBM took a bold stand in favour of equal opportunity Yet nearly seven decades later, the horrible and tragic deaths of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor and too many others remind us that the fight against racism is as urgent as ever, Krishna said in the letter.

The Indian-origin CEO told US lawmakers that IBM no longer offers the general purpose IBM facial recognition or analysis software.

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, he said.

Krishna added that IBM believes now is the time to begin a national dialogue on whether and how facial recognition technology should be employed by domestic law enforcement agencies.

“Artificial Intelligence (AI) is a powerful tool that can help law enforcement keep citizens safe. But vendors and users of Al systems have a shared responsibility to ensure that Al is tested for bias, particularity when used in law enforcement, and that such bias testing is audited and reported, he said.

Krishna also stressed that the national policy also should encourage and advance uses of technology that bring greater transparency and accountability to policing, such as body cameras and modern data analytics techniques.

He noted that IBM would like to work with Congress in pursuit of justice and racial equity, focused initially in three key policy areas of police reform, responsible use of technology, and broadening skills and educational opportunities.

On police reform, he said Congress should bring more police misconduct cases under federal court purview and should make modifications to the qualified immunity doctrine that prevents individuals from seeking damages when police violate their constitutional rights.

He said Congress should also establish a federal registry of police misconduct and adopt measures to encourage or compel states and localities to review and update use-of-force policies.

He also urged Congress to consider legislation such as the Walter Scott Notification Act, sponsored by Sen Tim Scott of South Carolina, which would require that states receiving federal funding report more details on the use of deadly force by law enforcement officers to the Department of Justice so that an accurate picture of such incidents is available for public scrutiny and analysis.

Krishna also highlighted the need to create more open and equitable pathways for all Americans to acquire marketable skills and training, and the need is particularly acute in communities of colour.

At IBM, we see an urgent demand for what we call new collar’ jobs, which require specialized skills but not necessarily a traditional 4-year college degree. Such jobs can still be found today in fast-growing fields from cybersecurity to cloud computing.


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