ACLU Supports Wrongful Imprisonment Lawsuit Over Facial Recognition Error


  • Nijeer Parks was wrongly arrested in 2019 due to a faulty facial recognition match in Woodbridge.
  • ACLU backs Parks and warns against overreliance on flawed facial recognition tech, especially impacting people of color.
  • Attorney General concerned, ACLU seeks ban, and Parks awaits a key ruling in his lawsuit against Woodbridge.

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has voiced its concern over a wrongful imprisonment lawsuit filed by a Paterson man who was arrested in 2019 based solely on a facial recognition system match. Nijeer Parks spent 10 days in jail and nearly 10 months under prosecution before the case was dismissed due to a lack of evidence. 

The ACLU argues that the case exemplifies the dangers of law enforcement’s uncritical reliance on unreliable Facial Recognition Technology (FRT) searches, particularly affecting people of color.

Facial recognition leads to wrongful arrest

Nijeer Parks, a Paterson resident, found himself at the center of a disturbing case when Woodbridge police arrested him in 2019 for alleged shoplifting based solely on a facial recognition system match. 

The technology is intended to be just one of several investigatory tools used by police to solve crimes. However, in Parks’ case, Woodbridge officers relied exclusively on the FRT match to identify him as the perpetrator of a $39 merchandise theft from a hotel.

Despite Parks vehemently denying any involvement and claiming he had never been to Woodbridge nor knew its location, he spent 10 days in jail and almost 10 months facing prosecution. 

Ultimately, the case was dismissed due to a lack of evidence. The ACLU has now weighed in on the matter, asserting that Parks’ case highlights the potential for the police’s overreliance on FRT to deprive innocent individuals of their liberty and violate their constitutional rights.

ACLU advocates for constitutional rights

In a brief filed on Monday, ACLU attorneys expressed their concerns regarding using facial recognition technology in law enforcement. They argued that the harms of misidentification disproportionately impact people of color like Nijeer Parks, making it a pressing civil rights issue.

Woodbridge police submitted a blurry photo from a fake driver’s license provided by the suspected shoplifter before he left the hotel. The facial recognition system returned an old arrest photo of Parks as a “possible hit.” 

Despite the limited evidence, a Woodbridge sergeant applied for an arrest warrant for Parks, stating, “It is the same person.” The ACLU contends that this hasty decision did not meet the legally required threshold for probable cause, effectively establishing the case as a malicious prosecution.

The ACLU emphasized that instead of conducting reliable confirmatory investigative steps, the police merely relied on an officer’s visual confirmation of the photo returned by the FRT search process. 

This failure to follow proper procedures led to Parks’ wrongful arrest. Facial recognition systems are known to be prone to returning false matches, which can lead to unjust arrests. Moreover, these false matches often resemble a lookalike or “doppelgänger” of the true suspect, further complicating law enforcement efforts.

State Attorney General’s office’s concerns and ACLU’s call for a ban

The New Jersey Attorney General’s Office expressed concerns about facial recognition technology in February 2022 and initiated a process to solicit public input to shape statewide policy on its use in law enforcement. However, the status of this effort remains unclear as the office has not responded to inquiries regarding its progress.

On the other hand, the ACLU has taken a strong stance on the matter, calling for a complete ban on law enforcement agencies’ use of facial recognition technology. They argue that the risks associated with misidentification and the potential violation of civil rights outweigh any benefits the technology may offer.

The legal battle and the upcoming ruling

Nijeer Parks filed a federal lawsuit against Woodbridge Township, police officials, and the Middlesex County Prosecutor in 2021. The lawsuit includes allegations of false arrest, false imprisonment, conspiracy, and other civil rights violations. 

In response, attorneys for Woodbridge filed a motion for summary judgment in December, indicating that they seek to have the judge decide the case before it goes to trial. A ruling on this motion is expected in the near future.

The outcome of this case could have significant implications for using facial recognition technology in law enforcement in New Jersey and potentially set a precedent for other jurisdictions grappling with the challenges posed by this controversial technology.

Disclaimer. The information provided is not trading advice. Cryptopolitan.com holds no liability for any investments made based on the information provided on this page. We strongly recommend independent research and/or consultation with a qualified professional before making any investment decisions.

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Benson Mawira

Benson is a blockchain reporter who has delved into industry news, on-chain analysis, non-fungible tokens (NFTs), Artificial Intelligence (AI), etc.His area of expertise is the cryptocurrency markets, fundamental and technical analysis.With his insightful coverage of everything in Financial Technologies, Benson has garnered a global readership.

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