IBM has come out in favor of restricting the export of facial recognition technologies to oppressive regimes.
As Reuters reports, IBM’s statement is in response to a request for public comment from the Commerce Department, which asked in July if new export license requirements should be implemented for biometric surveillance technologies.
Explaining IBM’s position, the company’s VP, Christopher Padilla, said that one-to-many facial recognition systems could be used in mass surveillance and to pick out dissidents from a crowd. As such, they pose a threat to civil liberties in certain regimes.
It’s a remarkably similar case to the ones often made by civil rights advocates within the US in campaigns against the use of facial recognition by law enforcement and other government authorities. Amid civil unrest and an incursion by federal police, municipal authorities in Portland, Oregon, made that city the latest to enact a ban on facial recognition technology this week.
That having been said, authoritarian governments such as China’s have already implemented biometric surveillance infrastructure on a vastly broader scale than anything seen in the US so far. Indeed, China may have been the main target of the Commerce Department’s request for comment from the beginning, with the agency’s notice having specifically pointed to China’s use of facial recognition in repressing the Uighur minority population of its Xinjiang region.
That would appear to fit into a larger adversarial strategy that the federal government has taken toward China under the Trump administration.
For its part, IBM did not name any specific countries in its statement, instead flagging “those countries that have a history of human rights abuses.” It also announced in June that it would stop selling general purpose facial recognition software as it called for police reform in America.
September 11, 2020 – by Alex Perala