Three Big Tech companies are the latest to join the fight against police by withholding their facial recognition technologies.
IBM, Amazon and Microsoft have vowed to stop helping police with facial recognition. The rationale is that, “Facial recognition technologies have been criticized for exhibiting built-in racial and ethnic biases and misidentifying African Americans and other people of color,” the June 11 issue of NBC News’s Byers Market newsletter reported. In short, Big Tech companies are claiming their own products can be potentially racist or used for racist purposes, and as a result are not allowing police to use them going forward.
IBM CEO Arvind Krishna sent an open letter to Senators Cory Booker (D-NJ) and Kamala Harris (D-CA), and House members Karen Bass (D-CA), Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY), and Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) on June 8 about IBM’s similar decision to withhold technology from police. Krishna implied that police were using such technology with nefarious aims:
IBM no longer offers 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.
Verge writer Jay Peters observed that facial recognition technology, “has been shown to suffer from bias along lines of age, race, and ethnicity, which can make the tools unreliable for law enforcement and security and ripe for potential civil rights abuses.”
Amazon followed BLM’s lead and declared the company will implement a “one-year moratorium on police use of Rekognition” in a June 10 blog post. This one year moratorium would end after the 2020 election.
“We’re implementing a one-year moratorium on police use of Amazon’s facial recognition technology,” Amazon’s blog post explained. That said, Amazon will allow some organizations to continue using their services in order “to help rescue human trafficking victims and reunite missing children with their families.”
Amazon clarified that this is a political matter without using President Donald Trump’s name a single time:
We’ve advocated that governments should put in place stronger regulations to govern the ethical use of facial recognition technology, and in recent days, Congress appears ready to take on this challenge. We hope this one-year moratorium might give Congress enough time to implement appropriate rules, and we stand ready to help if requested.
Two-hundred and fifty Microsoft employees have called upon their CEO via a letter to cancel police contracts and support defunding Seattle police, Protocol reported.
OneZero reportedly obtained a copy of the letter sent by Microsoft employees. The letter summarized that this is a case of activists rising up and attempting to force the hand of company leadership:
The email to the Microsoft executives includes a list of requests, including increased leniency for Microsoft workers in performance reviews due to the coronavirus pandemic and protests; the company formally condemning the use of tear gas, rubber bullets, and flashbangs; increasing Microsoft’s employee donation matches; the cancellation of contracts with SPD and other law enforcement agencies; support for defunding the SPD; signing a petition for the resignation of Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan; and support for a list of demands from BLM Seattle.
Microsoft has since caved and also refused service to the police. “Microsoft joined the list of tech giants who’ve decided to limit the use of its facial-recognition systems, announcing that it will not sell the controversial technology to police departments until there is a federal law regulating the technology,” The Washington Post reported on the afternoon of June 11.
Microsoft president Brad Smith proclaimed his company’s commitment to social justice in an interview during a Post Live event: “We’ve decided that we will not sell facial recognition technology to police departments in the United States until we have a national law in place grounded in human rights that will govern this technology.”
He later added,“The bottom line for us is to protect the human rights of people as this technology is deployed.”