A Michigan man is suing Detroit police after the departments’s facial recognition technology falsely identified him as a shoplifting suspect.
The American Civil Liberties Union filed the complaint on behalf of Robert Williams, a 43-year-old Black man who was wrongfully charged in a 2018 theft at a Shinola store. Investigators reportedly identified Williams as the thief by using facial recognition technology on a grainy surveillance video.
According to the Washington Post, Detroit police reviewed the footage, conducted witness interviews, and included Williams in a photo lineup presented to a store security guard. The guard, who wasn’t in the store at the time of the incident, reportedly picked Williams from the lineup. Officers then obtained a warrant for Williams’ arrest and took him into custody in January 2020. The father underwent interrogation and wasn’t released until 30 hours later.
“I came home from work and was arrested in my driveway in front of my wife and daughters, who watched in tears, because a computer made an error,” Williams said in an ACLU press release. “This never should have happened, and I want to make sure that this painful experience never happens to anyone else.”
Officials with the Detroit PD apologized for the arrest, and said they would have Williams’ fingerprints and mugshot expunged from all state and local records.
The ACLU notes facial recognition software has been widely criticized over the years for its poor accuracy rates. The organization points to studies that show this type of technology frequently misidentifies “Black people, especially in cases like this one when the photo is grainy, the lighting is poor, and the suspect is not looking at the camera.” Facial recognition has been known to be so unreliable that many cities—including Boston, New Orleans, and San Francisco—have banned its use.
“Cities across the country have banned police from using facial recognition technology for a reason,” said Jeremy Shur, a student attorney who is among those representing Williams. “The technology is racially biased, flawed, and easily leads to false arrests of innocent people, just like our client.”
Williams is seeking unspecified amount damages in addition to policy changes for the Detroit PD.