Faulty Facial Recognition Technology

April 27, 2021

Michigan father, arrested in front of his wife and daughters because a computer made an error, sues Detroit Police Department for wrongfully jailing him based on faulty facial recognition technology.

Michigan resident Robert Williams, arrested in front of his wife and daughters because a computer made an error, sues Detroit Police Department for wrongfully arresting and jailing him based on faulty facial recognition technology.

The University of Michigan Law School’s Civil Rights Litigation Initiative (CRLI), the ACLU (American Civil Liberties Union), and the ACLU of Michigan filed a federal lawsuit on behalf of Farmington Hills, Michigan resident Robert Williams. According to the lawsuit, Mr. Williams’ experience is the first case of wrongful arrest due to facial recognition technology to come to light in the United States.

Williams’s 2020 arrest stemmed from an October 2018 theft. After a shoplifter allegedly stole several watches at a store in Detroit in 2018, Detroit police officers tried to identify the thief by using a blurry image from the store’s surveillance camera video and feeding it through facial recognition technology. Thereafter Mr. Williams was held 30 hours in a Detroit detention center where he was forced to sleep on a raised cement slab due to overcrowding.

The federal lawsuit cites studies that show that facial recognition technology ispoor at accurately identifying 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.

“We know that facial recognition technology threatens everyone’s privacy by turning everybody into a suspect,” said Phil Mayor, senior staff attorney for the ACLU of Michigan. “We’ve repeatedly urged the Detroit Police Department (DPD) toabandon its use of this dangerous technology, but it insists on using it anyhow. Justice requires that DPD and its officers be held accountable.”

“Cities across the country have banned police from using facial recognition technology for a reason,” said Jeremy Shur,which is representing Mr. Williams. “The technology is racially biased, flawed, and easily leads to false arrests of innocent people, just like our client.”

“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,” said Mr. Williams. “This never should have happened, and I want to make sure that this painful experience never happens to anyone else.”

Federal lawsuit states that Mr. Williams’ Fourth Amendment rights were violated and his wrongful arrest is in violation of the Michigan Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act. The lawsuit seeks damages and policy changes to stop the abuse of facial recognition technology.

Press Release by the ACLU of Michigan