IBM Provided NYPD With Racist Surveillance Equipment

For every abuse of power by the government, there’s a corporation willing to help in order to make a profit. An investigative report by The Intercept found that the NYPD teamed with IBM to test new surveillance technology that could quickly scan passersby via various factors, including race.

Although the NYPD no longer uses this IBM technology to conduct quick surveillance scanning with secret cameras posted around the city, the report still raises plenty of questions about why the NYPD did utilize it between 2012 and 2016. Also, why would IBM think it appropriate to provide this service in the first place?

Sign the petition: Tell IBM to stop producing technology with a racial profiling feature. 

IBM got more than just money for cooperating with the NYPD – it also got a venue for developing and testing its sophisticated technology. The NYPD would send footage back to IBM so it could continually update and improve its service. “Needless to say, New Yorkers were never made aware of their lab rat status in IBM’s software development process,” writes Techdirt.

The NYPD insists that it never actually used the feature that allowed the department to search people by skin color, despite IBM wanting it to in order to test that function. Police spokesperson Peter Donald further insisted that it wouldn’t have broken any laws it if the NYPD had used that particular filter, but it wanted to “avoid even the suggestion or appearance of any kind of technological racial profiling.”

What appearance, though? All of this surveillance was being conducted in secret without public knowledge! Whether or not you believe that the NYPD is being truthful in saying it didn’t test the function, it’s hard to give them any credit given all of the other shadiness behind this surveillance program.

There is plenty of reason to doubt the assurance that the NYPD resisted the temptation to racially profile. The NYPD was previously caught running a secret program that spied on Muslims in the community. Even after six years, this invasive, unconstitutional practice resulted in zero terrorism leads for the police. Let’s not forget NYC’s abysmal stop and frisk program that targeted African Americans, either.

Evidently, IBM never took NYPD’s disinterest in using the racial profiling option as a reason to kill the option. The most recent editions of the technology being marketed to other police departments still allow the authorities to search people via ethnicity.

Take Action

IBM needs to eliminate this function altogether before it gets misused and abused. In the past, IBM aided the Nazis during the Holocaust – if the company now recognizes that as a mistake, it should be extra careful not to create technology that again separates people by ethnicity.

Sign this petition to call on Ginni Rometty, the CEO of IBM, to stop creating racial profiling surveillance tools for the state. Only bad things can come of these capabilities.

Photo credit: Thinkstock


Ben O
Ben O4 months ago


Kathy G
Kathy G4 months ago

Thank you

Kathy G
Kathy G4 months ago

Thank you

Edward Vaughn
Edward Vaughn5 months ago

Racist this, racist that. Crap!! Put the cameras where the crime is.

Alea C
Alea C5 months ago

I hate being watched so much that I'd like to wear clown make up whenever I leave the house to defeat facial recognition, but this is taking it one step further. Signed.

Paul C
Paul Carter5 months ago

Its a terrible thing to have to admit but not everyone from minority groups is as pure in thought word and deed as we would like. Some of them get up to mischief and need to be apprehended. If the police use a slightly dodgy tool to catch a villain it might be better than not using it, the villain getting away with their crime and going on to commit others. Sometimes it appears that some people on this site just hate the police - could that be because the only dealings they have with them are for traffic offenses? People who have needed the police in the past often actually praise them, or is that only in the UK?

Sherry K
Sherry Kohn5 months ago


Clare O
Clare O'Beara5 months ago

Thanks, but I think this needs to be kept in proportion. The 9/11 bombers were paid by Saudi Arabia and were Arabian looking, so if police were searching for one of the organisers before he left the country - which we know Bush encouraged rich Saudi families to do right away - it might help police immensely to home in on people who looked like the bombers heading for the airports. This would cut out all the Caucasians, Latinos, African-Americans and Asians in the crowd from their searches and they might be able to catch the bombers. Provided the use was infrequent and proportionate, and did not impact innocent people, this might be a good tool. As always it depends on how the tool is used. Just looking at someone of a certain race does not do them any harm.

JoAnn Paris
JoAnn Paris5 months ago

Thank you for this very interesting article.

Peggy B
Peggy B5 months ago