The ACLU today announced a lawsuit has been filed on behalf of
Robert Williams, a Black man arrested based on a false face recognition match by Detroit police.
Williams was held "in a dirty, overcrowded cell for 30 hours — until they realized that 'the computer got it wrong,'" the ACLU stated in announcing the suit. The ALCU filed the case on behalf of Williams in conjunction with the University of Michigan Law School's Civil Rights Litigation Initiative.
The lawsuit charges that the police violated Williams' rights protected by the Fourth Amendment and Michigan's civil rights law. "It seeks damages and demands that the Detroit Police
Department institute policy changes to halt the abuse of face recognition technology," the ACLU stated.
"It is well documented that face recognition technology is deeply flawed," the ACLU reported. "The technology has a disturbing record of racial bias against people of color and other marginalized groups. Many jurisdictions ban its use for that reason, among others.
"Face recognition is especially unreliable when attempting to identify Black people, when the photo used is grainy, when the lighting is bad, and when the suspect is not looking directly at the camera. All of these circumstances were present in the photograph that the Detroit Police Department used in its shoddy investigation, and are common in the type of photographs routinely used by police officers around the country when deploying face recognition technology.
"Despite the technology's well-known flaws, Detroit police relied on it almost exclusively in their investigation. They did not perform even a rudimentary investigation into Williams' whereabouts during the time of the Shinola shoplifting incident. If they had, they would have realized that Williams was not the culprit — he was driving home from work outside of Detroit at the time the incident took place.
"After the "witness" falsely identified Williams, the police submitted a faulty and misleading request for an arrest warrant. They did not include the probe image used to generate the faulty face recognition "match," nor did they disclose that the image was blurry, dark, and showed an obstructed, barely-visible face turned away from the camera — impermissible conditions for a face recognition search by even the police department's own standards.
"They also failed to mention that face recognition technology is known to be faulty under these circumstances. Nor did they disclose that the image of Williams that "matched" with the culprit's was actually his expired driver's license, rather than the most current image of him on file with the state.
"Moreover, the police did not mention that the individual who picked Williams out of the lineup had never actually seen the shoplifter in person. And perhaps most egregiously, the police did not explain that both the unknown suspect and Williams are Black, and that face recognition technology is well known to produce significantly higher rates of false matches when used to try to identify images of Black people, as compared to white men.
The ACLU concluded, "Williams' case makes it painfully clear: Face recognition technology turns everybody into a suspect and threatens our civil rights. We cannot allow flawed technology to participate in an already-flawed criminal legal system — especially when an individual's life and liberty are at stake."
You can read the full ACLU report here.