The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has filed an administrative complaint with the Detroit Police Department, which the advocacy group says is the first known arrest involving face recognition technology, CNN reported. According to the complaint, Robert Williams pulled his car into the driveway of his home in Farmington Hills, Michigan, one night in January when a police car came and blocked him in the driveway.
Officers jumped out of the car, arrested Williams’ wife and children under the watchful eye, and took him to a Detroit detention center half an hour away. There, he spent 30 hours in “crowded and dirty cells”.
Detroit police believe Williams stole several watches from a local Shinola store. But according to the ACLU, the police turned out to be misled by computer algorithms. The Detroit Police Department said in a statement that facial recognition software is “an investigative tool for generating leads” that requires “additional investigation, hard evidence and reasonable grounds” before being arrested.
Media believe the incident suggests the personal harm that the rapid spread of facial recognition in policing is inflicted on ordinary Americans — and the potential for the technology to misidentify people of color. Face recognition systems typically use software to match face images with images stored in a database. The technology has been used from concerts to airports, but is increasingly being used by privacy and civil liberties advocates, technologists and lawmakers for algorithmic discrimination.
Williams, who is black, is now a voice for the movement. According to the ACLU complaint, Detroit police provided video surveillance of a black man stealing watches from a Shinola store to Michigan State Police, who ran the video through a facial recognition system and suggested that Williams’ photos be used as a potential match. Shannon Banner, a spokesman for the Michigan State Police, referred CNN’s questions about Williams’ case to Detroit police.
According to Banner, Michigan State Police’s policy is not to use facial recognition as a positive form of identification. “It is considered to be just an investigative trail that requires investigators to continue their criminal investigation until any final decision is made, until the arrest is included,” she said. “All investigative leads reports are written at the top of the report as follows. ‘This document is not a positive identification. It’s just an investigative clue, not a possible cause of arrest. Further investigation is needed to establish a possible grounds for arrest’. “
Banner did not explain how software allegedly sold to state police by a company called DataWorks Plus showed that the man in the video was Williams. Despite this, police later showed a line of images, including Williams, to a Shinola security guard who did not witness the theft but who had seen the video. The security guard identified Williams as a suspect, the complaint said.
Williams was subsequently arrested, but was released after questioning, and as the complaint states, “it is clear that his arrest was based on false facial recognition.”
In a video produced by the American Civil Liberties Union about his experience, Williams said that after the officers who interrogated him saw that the photos did not match his face, “they left the photos on the table and they looked at each other and said ‘oops.'” “
“I never thought I’d explain to my daughters why Dad was arrested,” Williams wrote in an op-ed in The Washington Post on Wednesday. “How did i explain to the two little girls that the computer was wrong, but the police listened? “
The ACLU’s complaint against Williams’ experience comes after several large technology companies announced they would not sell face recognition technology to police. Amazon announced it was suspending sales of its Rekognition software for a year, while Microsoft said it would not sell its facial recognition technology to the police until federal regulations came in. At the same time, IBM announced a total ban on “universal” facial recognition, including the development of the technology.
It is not yet known how many local police departments in the United States are using the facial recognition system, or what rules govern how and where it is deployed. There is currently no federal legislation on its use, but some states have enacted laws. In Illinois, for example, the state requires companies to obtain customer consent before collecting biometric information. Some cities, including Boston and San Francisco, have banned the use of the technology.
The ACLU said Williams wants the Detroit Police Department to issue a public apology to Williams and his family through a complaint. The complaint also asked the department to provide all records related to Williams’ arrest and called on Detroit police to stop using facial recognition as a tool for investigation.
According to the complaint, in surveillance video used by police, the real suspect was wearing a St. Louis Cardinals hat. “Mr. Williams is a lifelong resident of the Detroit area, and he doesn’t have a hat like that, nor is he a Fan of the Cardinals,” the complaint said. “He’s not even a baseball fan. However, he is black. “