Detroit sued over facial recognition arrest error – Cities Today

A man wrongly arrested for using facial recognition technology is suing the city of Detroit, its police chief, and a detective.

The lawsuit was filed by the University of Michigan Law School’s Civil Rights Litigation Initiative (CRLI) and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) on behalf of Robert Williams.

The lawsuit states that Williams’ experience was the first case of unlawful arrest due to facial recognition technology that came to light in the United States.

The police blamed poor investigative work rather than technology.

Detroit police arrested Williams at his home in January 2020 after investigating security footage from a shoplifting incident that occurred in 2018 when several expensive watches were allegedly stolen. Face recognition technology was used on a grainy image from the video, and the system flagged Williams as a potential match based on an expired driver’s license photo.

The picture was used in a series of pictures shown to a security guard. The security guard, who did not witness the shoplifting and only watched the surveillance video, selected Williams and the police received an arrest warrant.

Williams, who was driving home from work outside of Detroit at the time of the shoplifting, was spending 30 hours in a detention center. The case was later dropped.

The lawsuit alleges that Williams’ rights to the Fourth Amendment were violated and that his arrest violated the Michigan Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act.


Williams is black and the case adds to concerns about the accuracy and possible distortion of facial recognition systems, especially in cases where image quality and lighting are poor and the suspect is not looking at the camera.

A 2019 study by the National Institute for Standards and Technology (NIST) found that facial recognition algorithms were up to 100 times more likely to misidentify African American and Asian faces than white faces.

Several US cities have banned facial recognition technology in response to these and other concerns, including Portland, which banned its use by private companies as well as internal departments. However, many law enforcement agencies still use facial recognition systems.

“We know facial recognition technology is compromising everyone’s privacy by turning everyone into suspects,” said Phil Mayor, senior attorney for Michigan ACLU. “We have repeatedly asked the Detroit Police Department to stop using this dangerous technology, but they insist on using it anyway. The judiciary is demanding that DPD and its officials be held accountable. “

The lawsuit seeks unknown harm and policy changes related to facial recognition technology.

Lawrence T. Garcia, attorney for the City of Detroit Corporation, told Cities Today, “The arrest was the result of poor investigation – not flawed technology. The arrest took place prior to the pandemic, and meanwhile the Detroit Police Department has conducted an internal investigation and brought charges of misconduct against several members of the department. DPD has introduced new protocols to prevent similar problems from occurring. “

“The Legal Department will seek to resolve Mr. Williams’ claims on terms that are fair to him and the city,” he added.

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