CEO of IBM Arvind Krishna tells Congress his company will no longer sell facial recognition technology

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The Indian-American CEO of IBM, Arvind Krishna, sent a letter to the United States Congress outlining policy proposals to advance racial equality in the country. He also  announced the company would stop supplying facial recognition technology to law enforcement.

IBM executive Arvind Krishna. 5/30/19 Photo by John O’Boyle

In a June 8, 2020 letter addressed to a group of lawmakers in the Senate and House of Representatives, Krishna noted how way back in September 1953, more than a decade before the passage Of the Civil Rights Act, IBM “took a bold stand in favor of equal opportunity”

Krishna’s letter was addressed to Senators Kamala Harris, D-California, Cory Booker, D-N.J., and Representatives Karen Bass, D-California, Hakeem Jeffries, D-N.Y., and Jerold Nadler, D-N.Y., all sponsors of the Justice in Policing Act, introduced in Congress June 8.

Krishna quoted from a letter that then President of IBM, Thomas J. Watson, Jr. sent to employees in which he said the company would hire people without regard to race, color or creed. Watson also refused to enforce Jim Crow racial segregation laws at IBM facilities nationwide.

Following on Watson’s footsteps, Krishna said, “To that end, IBM would like to work with Congress in pursuit of justice and racial equity, focused initially in three key policy areas: police reform, responsible use of technology, and broadening skills and educational opportunities.”

iHisH His suggestions include modifying the ‘qualified immunity” doctrine that prevents individuals from seeking damages when their constitutional rights may have been violated by law enforcemtn; and “responsible” technology policies that do not abet police in promoting discrimination.

“As such, IBM no longer offers general purpose IBM facial recognition or analysis software,” Krishna said, and “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 …”

He also called for a national policy that would encourage and advance uses of technology that bring greater transparency and accountability to policing, such as body cameras and modern data analytics techniques.

“We realize these measures are only a beginning, but IBM wants to help advance this nation’s pursuit of equity and justice and we stand ready to work with you to advance policies that will help unify our country and advance our national purpose,” Krishna concluded.

A 30-year veteran at IBM, Krishna is a graduate from the Indian Institute of Technology, Kanpur (IITK) and has a Ph.D. from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. He is credited with leading the building and expansion of new markets for IBM in artificial intelligence, cloud, quantum computing, and blockchain. He has also played a significant role in the development of innovative IBM products and solutions based on these emerging technologies, according to his biography on the company website.

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