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IBM calls for US export bans on facial recognition tech including cameras and big iron

‘Certain foreign governments’ can’t be allowed to conduct mass surveillance

“Certain foreign governments” should not be allowed to access technology that would let them deploy facial recognition technology as a tool of mass surveillance, says IBM government and regulatory affairs veep Christopher A. Padilla.

Big Blue’s opinion was expressed in a Friday submission [PDF] to an inquiry being conducted by the United States Department of Commerce’s Bureau of Industry and Security (BIS) on the topic of “Advanced Surveillance Systems and Other Items of Human Rights Concern”.

The submission outlines Big Blue’s belief that facial recognition is fine in a “1 to 1” context such as unlocking a phone. But IBM is opposed to “1 to many” facial recognition that refers to a database to identify a face in a crowd and could therefore be used for “mass surveillance systems, racial profiling or other human rights violations.”

IBM wants BIS to “employ precision regulation that applies restrictions and oversight to particular use-cases and end-users where there is greater risk of societal harm.” That’s IBM’s emphasis, by the way.

Big Blue suggests that US authorities should assess a nation’s “recent human rights record” and “history of human rights violations or misuse of such technology”. If a nation falls on the wrong side of such an assessment, Padilla’s blog post outlines a list of actions it thinks are appropriate, namely:

  • Limit the export of “1 to many” systems by controlling export of both the high-resolution cameras used to collect data and the software algorithms used to analyze and match that data against a database of images.
  • Limit the ability of certain foreign governments to obtain the large-scale computing components required to implement an integrated facial recognition system.
  • Restrict access to online image databases that can be used to train “1 to many” facial recognition systems, and where explicit consent of the individual in the image for its use may be unclear or non-existent.

IBM also wants the USA to use the multilateral weapons export control pact the Waasenaar Agreement to have its ideas applied by other nations.

IBM has already stopped offering general facial recognition technology because it doesn’t want to be in the business of potentially allowing profiling or surveillance.

This new call for a ban on exports therefore won’t hurt its software business, but could conceivably deny a nasty regime the chance to buy IBM servers, mainframes and storage systems. Neither the blog post or submission mentions cloud and its potential to let a government access facial recognition tech, or the infrastructure required to undertake it, across borders. ®

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