Detroit Settles for $300,000 with Wrongly Accused Man, Revises Facial Recognition Policies

The city of Detroit has decided to alter how police use face recognition technology to investigate crimes and to pay $300,000 to a man who was falsely accused of theft.

The terms are a component of the settlement of the case involving Robert Williams. In 2018, a man captured on security footage at a Shinola watch store was mistakenly identified by his driver’s license photo as a possible match.

“We are extremely excited that going forward there will be more safeguards on the use of this technology with our hope being to live in a better world because of it,” Williams stated to reporters, “even though what we would like for them to do is not use it at all.”

The American Civil Liberties Union and the University of Michigan Law School’s Civil Rights Litigation Initiative announced the deal on Friday. They contend that there are racial biases in the technology. Williams is a Black person.

According to the ACLU, Detroit police will not be allowed to make an arrest based only on the results of a facial recognition search, nor will they be allowed to do so based on photo lineups produced by such a search.

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“They can get a facial recognition lead and then they can go out and do old-fashioned police work and see if there’s actually any reason to believe that the person who was identified … might have committed a crime,” Phil Mayor, an ACLU attorney stated.

Detroit police did not immediately provide a statement regarding the settlement. In August of last year, Chief James White made an announcement regarding new technology policy while the lawsuit was still pending.

The action was taken in response to a pregnant eight months woman who said she had been falsely accused of carjacking.

At the time, White stated that in order for authorities to conclude that a suspect had the “means, ability, and opportunity to commit the crime,” they need to have further proof in addition to the technology.

According to the agreement with Williams, Detroit police will review incidents involving the use of face recognition technology from 2017 to 2023. Police will notify a prosecutor if they discover that an arrest was made in the absence of credible evidence.

“When someone is arrested and charged based on a facial recognition scan and a lineup result, they often face significant pressure to plead guilty,” Mayor stated. “That is all the more true if the individual — unlike Mr. Williams — has a criminal record and thus faces longer sentences and more suspicious police and prosecutors.”


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