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Detroit cops made first known wrongful arrest based on faulty facial recognition software, ACLU complaint claims

Detroit cops made first known wrongful arrest based on faulty facial recognition software, ACLU complaint claims
A case involving a black man who was wrongfully detained due to an incorrect facial recognition match could be the first of its kind, the ACLU has said. The civil liberties group has filed a complaint with Detroit police.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan filed a formal letter of protest on Wednesday over the arrest and treatment of Robert Williams, who was cuffed on his front lawn by Detroit officers after being suspected of stealing watches from a boutique. The arrest, which was made in January, came about after Williams was flagged by a facial recognition system used by the Detroit Police Department. The police later admitted that they had nabbed the wrong person, after it became clear that Williams looked nothing like the suspect in the blurry surveillance photograph used to make the arrest.

“I hope you all don't think all Black men look alike,” Williams reportedly asked his interrogators once it was clear that they had nabbed the wrong guy. In total, Williams spent nearly 30 hours locked up as a result of the police error.

In a press release, the ACLU said that facial recognition technology, provided by firm Rank One Computing, was “racist” because it is unable to tell black people apart. The organization said that Williams' case may mark the first time that faulty facial recognition was used to make an arrest. The organization noted, however, that it's possible there have been other instances which were never made public.

In its complaint, the civil liberties group demanded that the Detroit Police Department publicly apologize to Williams for the “trauma” suffered by him and his family. The ACLU also called on Detroit police to stop using facial recognition technology as an investigatory tool. Finally, the complaint states that the law enforcement agency should scrub Williams' mugshot and other arrest records from their database, as well as comply with a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request asking for the initial warrant for his detention and other information.

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“When you add a racist and broken technology to a racist and broken criminal legal system, you get racist and broken outcomes. When you add a perfect technology to a broken and racist legal system, you only automate that system’s flaws and render it a more efficient tool of oppression,” the organization said in its press release.

Rank One has disputed these claims, citing studies showing that its software is highly accurate. Several other facial recognition developers, including Microsoft and Amazon, have halted sales to police amid nationwide protests alleging systemic racism in law enforcement.

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