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Arvind Krishna: IBM Opposes Facial Recognition For Racial Profiling

'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,' Krishna, IBM's CEO, says in a letter to Congress.

IBM CEO Arvind Krishna said the company has stopped selling facial recognition software and opposes the use of any technology for mass surveillance, racial profiling and violating human rights.

Krishna, who became CEO of Armonk, N.Y.-based Big Blue in January, said in a Monday letter to Congress that the use of facial recognition or analysis software for such purposes is "not consistent with our values and Principles of Trust and Transparency."

[Related: HPE CEO Antonio Neri: ‘George Floyd Should Not Be Dead’]

"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," Krishna said.

The letter, which was published to IBM's website, came amid nationwide protests that have called for police reform or abolition and justice for George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery and Breonna Taylor, whose deaths "remind us that the fight against racism is as urgent as ever," Krishna said.

In his letter—which was addressed to U.S. Sens. Cory Booker (D-NJ) and Kamala Harris (D-CA) and Reps. Karen Bass (D-CA), Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY) and Jerrold Nadler (D-NY)—Krishna said IBM "would like to work with Congress in pursuit of justice and racial equity," with an initial focus on three key policy areas: "police reform, responsible use of technology, and broadening skills and educational opportunities."

Krishna suggested new federal rules to increase accountability for police misconduct, saying that Congress should increase the purview of federal courts to hear misconduct cases while making modifications to qualified immunity doctrine "that prevents individuals from seeking damages when police violate their constitutional rights."

Other suggestions include a federal registry of police misconduct as well as measures to compel or encourage review of use-of-force policies and to require states receiving federal funding to "report more details on the use of deadly force by law enforcement officers to the Department of Justice," all of which are included in the Justice in Policing Act that was introduced by Democratic lawmakers Monday.

Krishna said while technologies like body cameras and data analytics can increase transparency around policing, he questioned whether law enforcement agencies should use facial recognition.

"Artificial Intelligence is a powerful tool that can help law enforcement keep citizens safe," he said. "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."

In addition to IBM's suggestions for police reform, Krishna said more needs to be done to expand economic opportunities for people of color. As such, the company is suggesting the adoption of the P-TECH school model that provides students a high-school diploma and associate degree debt-free and expanding the eligibility of Pell Grant recipients beyond traditional four-year degree programs.

"We 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 color," Krishna said. "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."

While new calls for police reform have renewed scrutiny over the use of facial recognition, companies like Microsoft and Amazon Web Services have previously called for regulation of the technology while the Electronic Frontier Foundation said it should be banned. Some municipalities, including San Francisco and Cambridge, Mass., have already instated bans.

The American Civil Liberties Union has called on Congress to "rein in the technology once and for all," saying that "face recognition surveillance has no place in our communities."

"Face recognition offers governments a surveillance capability unlike any other technology in the past," Abdullah Hasan of the ACLU wrote in a January column, citing China's use of the technology to "track and control" ethnic minorities. "The powerful capability can enable the government to identify who attends protests, political rallies, church, or AA meetings on an unprecedented scale."

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