Detroit: First lawsuit for wrongful arrest as a result of facial recognition technology

Facial recognition technology is a very valuable tool for police departments around the world. It is probably the fastest and easiest identification tool they have, but we certainly could not say that it is the most reliable, nor the only one they should use to certify the identity of a person. Worse still, if it is the tool on which they will be based to prosecute and deprive a person of freedom.

"The computer told us it was you”Was what the Detroit Police Department officers said to Mr. Robert Williams when they tried to explain why they were arresting him. It so happens that the Shinola boutique in Detroit had been the scene of a robbery of several watches. Fortunately, this store had a video surveillance camera that allowed them to capture the image of the thief and based on this they were able to use the facial recognition system that said police department has.

However, the image they used as a base was not the best, it was a grainy photo with poor lighting, he said. ACLU. On the other hand, it is known that the facial recognition system is certainly not infallible, particularly with the identification of people of color and Asians. What notes Patrick Grother, researcher at the US National Institute of Technology Standards (NIST): “While it is generally incorrect to make statements through algorithms, we found empirical evidence for the existence of demographic differentials in most of the facial recognition algorithms we studied.”. Certainly, this known defect must have had an effect on the investigation, which at least led them to carry out an identity check by other additional means.

Based on this, the Civil Rights Litigation Initiative (CRLI) at the University of Michigan Law School, along with the American Civil Liberties Union and the ACLU (American Civil Liberties Union) of Michigan, does some days they filed a federal lawsuit on behalf of the victim, Robert Williams against the Detroit Police Department for wrongful arrest and imprisonment. According to the lawsuit, both events represented a violation of the rights of the fourth amendment of the United States Constitution (non-arbitrary apprehensions), as well as the Elliot-Larsen Civil Rights Act of Michigan.

In this regard, the ACLU of Michigan attorney urges the Detroit police to abandon this system: “We know that facial recognition technology threatens privacy by making everyone a suspect ... We have repeatedly urged the Detroit Police Department to stop using this dangerous technology, but they insist on using it anyway. Justice requires the Detroit Police Department and its officials to be held accountable".

Indeed, this identification system can involve many risks of this type, leading to the unfair prosecution of many people. In this sense, it is important that police departments that have these systems use this tool as a means by which they can reach an identification, accompanied by other evidence and indications. But it certainly cannot be the only tool to arrive at an identification. This is quite dangerous.

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Marilú Lazo
Lawyer from the Pontificia Universidad Católica del Perú (PUCP). Director of The Crypto Legal Blog, she has experience in corporate advice, consumer protection, as well as in matters of personal data protection and new technologies.


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