IBM on Monday announced plans to stop selling general-purpose facial recognition software amid protests against racism and police violence in the United States for two weeks. The American IT giant said it was firmly opposed “To the use of any technology for the purposes of mass surveillance, racial profiling, violations of basic human rights and freedoms or any objective contrary to our values”, in a letter to members of Congress from IBM chief executive Arvind Krishna.
“We believe that now is the time to open a national dialogue on facial recognition technologies to determine if they should be used, and how, by law enforcement agencies,” did he declare. Facial recognition is based on artificial intelligence (AI) technologies. It can be used to authenticate the users of a service (smartphone, payment system, etc.) but also to identify people within a group of individuals physically present or in a photo database, for example.
“Bridging the digital divide”
Facial recognition “Can help police protect communities but should not promote racial discrimination or injustice”, details Arvind Krishna. “Suppliers and customers who use artificial intelligence share the responsibility of ensuring that AI is not biased, especially when it comes to law enforcement”. The United States has been rocked by a wave of protests against institutionalized racism and police brutality since the death of George Floyd, an African-American suffocated by a white policeman in Minneapolis on May 25.
The IBM boss is asking Congress to ensure that movable cameras worn by officers and analysis tools allow police to report when needed. Neema Singh Guliani of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) believes facial recognition should not be built into these cameras at all.
” We need to invest in technologies that can help bridge the digital divide, not technologies that create surveillance infrastructure and exacerbate police abuse and structural racism ”, she argued in a statement released in response to police reform measures proposed to Congress. ACLU regularly challenges technology companies like Amazon or Microsoft on the potentially abusive or deleterious uses of facial recognition.