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Detroit city adopts new rules for facial recognition technology after wrongful arrests

In this post:

  • Detroit city announced new rules for the use of facial recognition technology by police.
  • At least three people were wrongfully arrested based solely on facial recognition technology.
  • Police say the technology helps solve crimes but will be used for more serious crimes.

On Friday, Detroit city adopted new rules for the use of AI-based facial recognition technology. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) says the new set of rules should be a national standard.

Law enforcement agencies across the United States use AI-based facial recognition technology to help identify criminals caught on camera. In Michigan, the AI system compares new faces to the ones in the mugshot database or driving license images. In other US regions, tools like Clearview AI are used to search through photos scraped from the internet, especially social media sites, according to a report by The New York Times.

Facial recognition technology provided wrong matches 

A citizen Robert Williams was prisoned in Detroit  jail in January 2020. He was arrested by the Detroit Police Department because facial recognition system suggested he was the culprit. The system’s match was wrong, and Williams was sued. He spent 30 hours in jail.

Also read: Senators Call for Restrictions on Facial Recognition Technology in Airports

On June 28, Williams got a commitment from the Detroit Police Department that they would improve as part of a legal settlement over his unjust arrest. The American Civil Liberties Union presented Mr. William as the first individual to be unjustly arrested because of the flawed facial recognition system. Williams said,

“We hope that it moves the needle in the right direction.”

Two other people were also arrested based on the identification of the faulty facial recognition system. An eight-month pregnant woman, Porcha Woodruff, was also among the arrestees who were wrongfully charged with car theft.

Police now need proof beyond facial recognition

An important new rule adopted by the city is that photos of people identified by the facial recognition system can no longer be shown to an eyewitness. This would be only allowed if there is additional proof connecting the identified individual to the offense.

ACLU’s lawyer, Phil Mayor, said, “The pipeline of get a picture, slap it in a lineup, will end.” He added further,

“This settlement moves the Detroit Police Department from being the best-documented misuser of facial recognition technology into a national leader in having guardrails in its use.”

It is important to remember that Mr. Williams was wrongfully arrested for a retail theft crime that took place when he was working on his desk in a supply company. His fingerprints and DNA were also collected and he had to hire a lawyer for his defense. Ms. Woodruff was arrested when she was preparing her children for school. She has also sued the city and the case is in court.

Police will use AI-based tech for serious crimes

The police said facial recognition technology helps in solving crimes as it is a powerful tool. However, many cities have banned its use due to concerns about racial bias and privacy. The Detroit police are said to have made three unjust arrests due to faulty technology. However, the city officials said that the new rules would prevent misuse. 

Also read: Ban the Scan – Is Facial Recognition a Threat to Civil Liberties?

The city officials remain optimistic about the potential of artificial intelligence technology. They said they would use it for more serious crimes such as home invasions, assault or murder. James White, Detroit’s police chief, said his officers relied too heavily on the technology. He blamed their judgment instead of the machine.

Speaking of the rule according to which police can no longer show an individual’s face solely on the basis of facial recognition, Mr. Lamoreaux of the crime intelligence unit said,

“There has to be some kind of secondary corroborating evidence that’s unrelated before there’s enough justification to go to the lineup.”

Lamoreaux said that police would now need more than just a person’s physical resemblance. He said that geo-tagging a person’s phone to determine location or DNA evidence would be required.

According to the new rules, police will have to disclose facial search along with the quality of the photo. Mr. Hayes, Detroit’s deputy police chief, showed his confidence in the new rules. He said they would help in curbing misidentifications. However, he pointed out that “There are still a few things that might slip up, for example, identical twins.”


Cryptopolitan reporting by Aamir Sheikh

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