IBM urges US govt to adopt new controls on facial recognition systems for ‘repressive regimes’

The US Commerce Department should adopt new export controls to limit repressive regimes’ access to facial recognition systems, IBM Corp said on Friday, claiming such systems can be used to commit human rights violations.

The company wants the United States to institute new export limits on “the type of facial recognition system most likely to be used in mass surveillance systems, racial profiling or other human rights violations.”

The Commerce Department has, since July, sought public comments on whether to adopt new export license requirements for facial recognition software and other biometric systems used in surveillance.

The government should focus on systems that could be used to pick dissidents out of a crowd or for mass surveillance, rather than “facial identification” systems that allow a user to unlock an iPhone or board an airplane, Christopher Padilla, IBM’s vice president for government and regulatory affairs, told Reuters.

The US should control 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, according to the firm. It also argued Washington should “limit the ability of certain foreign governments” to obtain the large-scale computing components required to implement an integrated facial recognition system.

No specific governments were identified in the company’s statement, but the Commerce Department’s notice in July said that China “has deployed facial recognition technology in the Xinjiang region. It cited “repression, mass arbitrary detention and high technology surveillance against Uighurs, Kazakhs and other members of Muslim minority groups.”

Dozens of Chinese companies and entities have already been added to the department’s economic blacklist, after US officials accused them of being implicated in alleged human rights violations regarding China’s treatment of Uighurs. The list includes video surveillance firm Hikvision, and leaders in facial recognition technology SenseTime Group Ltd and Megvii Technology. China’s government has repeatedly denied mistreating the population of Xinjiang.

IBM will itself stop offering facial recognition software and opposes any use of such technology “for purposes of mass surveillance and racial profiling.” The company is also calling for new federal rules to hold police more accountable for misconduct.

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