It is estimated that one billion surveillance cameras are in operation[i]. The United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (UNGPs) urge companies to respect human rights and correct abuses when they occur. They call on companies to conduct human rights due diligence to “know and show” they respect human rights through their own activities, and the activities directly linked to their products, services, operations, and through their business relationships.
Earlier this year, Candriam initiated the Facial Recognition Initiative to address the risks of this expanding technology. Welcomed by the UN Principles for Responsible Investment, 50 investors representing $4.5 trillion of assets under management have committed to the initiative.
Facial Recognition Technologies are changing our lives...
Many of us welcome facial technology. It enhances efficiency and security. We use it to unlock high-end smartphones, and to pass more rapidly through airports. While only now beginning to be widely used, Facial Recognition Technology (FRT) has been under development for decades.
....but are Human Rights a Hidden Cost?
Responsible investing is more than reacting to the risks and problems we face today. It is more than 'green' and climate. It is recognition of the role of finance in society.
Technology has brought us some wonderful benefits, and some wonderful investments. During the recent year of pandemic distancing, technology allowed many families to communicate without contact, many professionals to work from a distance, and even expanded contactless health care through tele-medicine.
Facial recognition technology in its present form lacks consent of those photographed, and lacks official oversight. In many cases, we are under FRT surveillance without our knowledge. Misidentification is far more frequent than one might expect, and occurs more systematically among certain ethnic groups.
Misidentification is on the rise, and has led to false arrests. In 2019, the US city of San Francisco, the birthplace of Facial Recognition, banned its use in law enforcement. Soon after, several large technology companies announced a one-year moratorium of the sale of their FRT products.
What are the controversies?
The lack of permission, lack of oversight, the rate of error, and the gender and racial biases in the misidentifications are among the controversies which must be clarified. Investors must ask the questions, before we try to determine any directions.
As part of our Active Engagement efforts, Candriam is signatory to a range of Investor Statements and Collaborative Engagment Initiatives, and are often involved with groups of investors in their design and launch. For the first time, we are the initial proposers of an Investor Statement, which has been supported by the UN PRI.
[i] Lin, Liza and Newley Purnell. The Wall Street Journal. A World With a Billion Cameras Watching You Is just Around the Corner. Updated 6 December, 2019.