A group of 50 institutional investors with $4.5 trillion in assets under management (as of December of 2020) is calling for more rigorous human rights and due diligence policies for companies involved in facial recognition technology.
It’s an initiative that was first launched by Candriam, a subsidiary of New York Life, in March of this year. Now, a number of other high-profile investment firms are on board, including Aviva Investors and BMO Asset Management, among others.
In a statement, the investor group was careful to acknowledge the benefits that facial recognition technology has to offer, noting that it does not require physical contact and “is easily accessible, automatic, seamless and cost effective.” The group also noted that government and law enforcement agencies are keen on the technology, seeing it as a means of attaining “increased security and improved efficiency.”
That having been said, the group went on to explain, facial recognition technology can also “undermine our fundamental rights” and is being developed “in a largely unconstrained way”. The group highlighted the algorithmic racial and gender biases that have been observed in facial recognition systems, the variance in accuracy, legal issues surrounding how subject photos are sourced, and the general potential for misuse by governments and law enforcement.
“These represent serious reputational, operational, and financial risks for the companies involved in [facial recognition technology], as well as salient risks to human rights,” the group said.
To ameliorate these risks, the investor group says it will engage with companies to ensure that they take reasonable steps to mitigate potential harm, including things like disclosing the accuracy of their technology and the sources of their image databases, monitoring their technology for demographic biases, implementing grievance mechanisms for the technology’s potential misuse, and demonstrating “proper due diligence of clients” before selling their solutions.
The Candriam-led group itself is committing to the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights in its own investment analyses concerning facial recognition companies.
June 8, 2021 – by Alex Perala