ACLU Supports Man Wrongfully Arrested Based on Poor Facial Recognition

Facial Recognition

The national and New Jersey chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union filed an amicus brief in support of a man who was reportedly wrongfully arrested after facial recognition misidentified him.

Police arrested Nijeer Parks in 2019 after using facial recognition technology that generated a false match as authorities investigated a shoplifting incident in a hotel lobby. Now, the ACLU has taken interest in his case, filing an amicus brief in support of him.

To give an idea of its purpose, an amicus brief — which translates to “friend of the court” — is filed by a person or organization that is not a party in the case but that would like to provide additional information. Similarly, the United States Copyright Office, the ASMP, and the NPPA all submitted amicus briefs arguing that Andy Warhol’s use of Lynn Goldsmith’s photo of Prince was not fair use — an opinion the Supreme Court eventually shared.

In this case, the ACLU emphasized that Parks’ case could be the first of many to have a judge weigh in, according to a release from the civil rights group. Specifically, the amicus brief argues in the favor of the case continuing to trial “to vindicate [Parks’] civil rights.

“Mr. Parks is an innocent New Jerseyan whose rights were disregarded when police neglected any proper procedure and misrepresented the accuracy of problematic face recognition tools,” Dillon Reisman, a staff attorney for the ACLU-NJ, said in the release. “We filed this brief to ensure the Court hears how law enforcement use of face recognition is fundamentally unreliable, and how its limitations led to the false arrest and imprisonment of Nijeer Parks, an innocent Black man, for a crime he did not commit.”

Nathan Freed Wessler, who is the deputy director of the ACLU Speech, Privacy, and Technology Project, echoed those statements, adding, “The court should take this important opportunity to put police on clear notice that misuse of this technology poses a hazard to members of our communities, and that police can be held accountable for violating people’s rights.”

Additionally, a judge’s ruling or statements could set a precedent when it comes to cases regarding facial technology.

In Parks’ cases, the incident happened, according to the ACLU, when police confronted the suspect, who offered up a fake driver’s license. A blurry and shadowed photo of that license was sent through a facial recognition system, which brought up Parks as a “possible hit,” the release continues. The arrest was made, the ACLU argues, without further investigation. However, Parks reportedly wasn’t in Woodbridge, New Jersey, where the incident took place, at the time. Still, Parks spent 10 days in jail.

“As evidence has repeatedly shown, face recognition technology is dangerously unreliable and subjects Black and brown people to higher rates of misidentification, particularly when used in law enforcement settings,” the ACLU release states. “Nearly every known case of a wrongful arrest due to police reliance on incorrect face recognition results has involved arrest of a Black person.”

Image credits: Header photo licensed via Depositphotos.