Since it has seen deployment by police, facial recognition has caused no less than six people to be wrongfully and accused and arrested for crimes they did not commit, yet the technology continues to be used.
Yesterday, the New York Times reported that Detroit resident Porcha Woodruff was arrested at her home last February for a crime she did not commit and was held for 11 hours. She was pregnant at the time.
“I was having contractions in the holding cell. My back was sending me sharp pains. I was having spasms. I think I was probably having a panic attack,” said Ms. Woodruff, a licensed aesthetician and nursing school student. “I was hurting, sitting on those concrete benches.”
She was charged in court with robbery and carjacking and released on a $100,000 personal bond afterward. She immediately went to the hospital where she was diagnosed with dehydration. A month later, the Wayne County prosecutor dismissed the case against her.
According to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), this is the sixth known allegation of a wrongful arrest made due to faulty facial recognition and the third made against the Detroit Police Department. All six people have been Black, and Ms. Woodruff is the first woman to report it happening to her.
According to the Times, the Detroit Police Department on average runs 125 facial recognition searches a year, almost entirely on Black men. Critics of facial recognition, including the ACLU, say that cases like Ms. Woodruff’s show the dangers of the technology on innocent people.
“It’s deeply concerning that the Detroit Police Department (DPD) knows the devastating consequences of using flawed facial recognition technology as the basis for someone’s arrest and continues to rely on it anyway,” Phil Mayor, senior staff attorney at ACLU of Michigan, says.
“As Ms. Woodruff’s horrifying experience illustrates, the Department’s use of this technology must end. Furthermore, the DPD continues to hide its abuses of this technology, forcing people whose rights have been violated to expose its wrongdoing case by case. DPD should not be permitted to avoid transparency and hide its own misconduct from public view at the same time it continues to subject Detroiters to dragnet surveillance.”
The Detroit Police Department uses facial recognition provided by South Carolina-based DataWorks Plus according to a report by The Washington Post in 2021. The company claims that it uses the “latest facial matching technology” to accurately and reliably provide recognition within seconds. However, in 2020, the Detroit Police Chief admitted that the software misidentified a suspect about 96% of the time. Despite this, the department continues to use the software now three years later.
The New York Times reports that the city of Detroit is currently facing three lawsuits for wrongful arrests made based on the use of facial recognition.
Multiple cities have banned the use of facial recognition technology by police departments as have some states. However, there is no federal rule against its use. In fact, the FBI had tested widespread facial recognition software on American citizens for almost a decade.
Image credits: Header photo licensed via Depositphotos.