IBM secretly used video surveillance images collected by the New York Police Department (NYPD) to develop facial recognition software that can identify individuals based upon certain features, such as hair and skin color, The Intercept reported. The NYPD started collecting images of New Yorkers following the 9/11 attacks, when it installed cameras around the city to monitor any suspicious and potential terrorist activity. It also tracked other potentially malicious activity in the city, such as cars speedily driving up one-way streets the wrong way, unattended vehicles and people trespassing in unauthorized areas.
IBM created the software that allowed the NYPD to search for potential criminals based upon tags including facial features, clothing color, facial hair, skin color, age, gender and more. Overall, it could identify more than 16,000 data points making it a very accurate way of recognizing faces, according to The Intercept. However, officers were told not to use the filters such as skin color or tone in their assessments, but only for evaluation purposes. The project was abandoned in 2016 when the NYPD decided not to roll it out to officers.
“Video, from time to time, was provided to IBM to ensure that the product they were developing would work in the crowded urban NYC environment and help us protect the City,” the NYPD told The Intercept. “There is nothing in the NYPD’s agreement with IBM that prohibits sharing data with IBM for system development purposes. “Further, all vendors who enter into contractual agreements with the NYPD have the absolute requirement to keep all data furnished by the NYPD confidential during the term of the agreement, after the completion of the agreement, and in the event that the agreement is terminated.”
IBM has continued developing the platform though and its 2017 Intelligent Video Analytics 2.0 software does tag people using phrases such as Asian, white and black. Privacy advocates argue that members of the public should have been made aware that their images could be used by a private company to develop surveillance technology, according to The Intercept. The report comes amid an increasingly public controversy about the appropriate development and use of facial recognition, which has included a call for government regulation by Microsoft President Brad Smith.