Facial recognition leads to wrongful arrest of Black man in Detroit

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A Black man in Detroit was wrongfully arrested and detained by police who mis-identified him with a false facial recognition hit. The case of Robert Williams, an innocent person who was held in police custody for a day, is the first publicly reported case of artificial intelligence resulting in a false arrest in the United States.

The ACLU has filed a complaint against the Detroit Police Department.

NPR's Bobby Allyn interviews the man who’s now calling for a ban on the technology in today's Morning Edition.

The Detroit Police were using technology provided by Rank One. The company said in a blog post last year that fears people could be mis-identified were “misconceptions,” and linked to U.S. government research on potential high accuracy of AI systems.

From a report by Reuters:

Robert Williams spent over a day in custody in January after face recognition software matched his driver’s license photo to surveillance video of someone shoplifting, the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan (ACLU) said in the complaint. In a video shared by ACLU, Williams says officers released him after acknowledging “the computer” must have been wrong.

Government documents seen by Reuters show the match to Williams came from Michigan state police’s digital image analysis section, which has been using a face matching service from Rank One Computing. Detroit and state authorities and Rank One could not be immediately reached for comment.

The ACLU complaint requests Detroit police stop using facial recognition “as the facts of Mr. Williams’ case prove both that the technology is flawed and that investigators are not competent in making use of such technology.”

Separate guidelines from Michigan state police and Rank One state a face match should not be used as the basis for an arrest. It was unclear whether police had additional evidence before arresting Williams, who is Black, in front of his wife and their two-year-old and five-year-old daughters, ACLU said.

Read more:U.S. activists fault face recognition in wrongful arrest for first time