Civil rights activists have filed an official complaint against the Detroit police, alleging the department arrested the wrong man based on a faulty and incorrect match provided by facial recognition software—the first known complaint of this kind.
The American Civil Liberties Union filed the complaint (PDF) Wednesday on behalf of Robert Williams, a Michigan man who was arrested in January based on a false positive generated by facial recognition software. “At every step, DPD’s conduct has been improper,” the complaint alleges. “It unthinkingly relied on flawed and racist facial recognition technology without taking reasonable measures to verify the information being provided” as part of a “shoddy and incomplete investigation.”
The investigation began when five watches, valued at about $3,800, were stolen from a Shinola luxury retail store in Detroit in October 2018. Investigators reviewed the security footage and identified a suspect: an apparent Black man wearing a baseball cap and a dark jacket. In March 2019, according to the complaint, Detroit police conducted a facial recognition search using an image from the surveillance footage; that search matched the image to Williams’ driver’s license photo.