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Many people who are arrested and charged based on the results of a facial recognition scan often feel pressured to plead guilty, especially if they have a criminal record. This situation can lead to longer prison sentences and increased scrutiny by law enforcement and prosecutors, unlike in the case of Robert Williams in Detroit City.

Detroit’s recent $300,000 settlement with Williams raises broader concerns about how facial recognition technology is used to solve crimes, underscoring growing concerns about privacy rights and the importance of putting safeguards in place as technology advances.

TOPSHOT – A live demonstration uses artificial intelligence and facial recognition in spatiotemporal technologies in dense crowds at the Horizon Robotics exhibit at the Las Vegas Convention Center during CES 2019 in Las Vegas on January 10, 2019.
(Photo: DAVID MCNEW/AFP via Getty Images)

Robert Williams sued Detroit police after he was wrongly identified as a theft suspect

Detroit has agreed to pay $300,000 to Robert Williams, who was falsely accused of theft due to faulty facial recognition technology. Williams sued Detroit police after he was wrongfully arrested in front of his family in 2020 and sentenced to 30 hours in jail.

The case was dismissed Friday when the settlement between Williams and the city was filed in federal court. As part of the settlement, Detroit police must also change its policies on how police will use this technology to prevent future misidentifications.

The Associated Press reported that Williams, whose driver’s license photo was mistakenly linked to a suspect in a 2018 shoplifting case at a Shinola store, expressed relief at the settlement.

In a press conference Friday, Williams expressed optimism that the new security measures would improve facial recognition technology and photo-posing policies, but he would prefer that police not use the technology.

The settlement, announced by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and the Civil Rights Litigation Initiative at the University of Michigan Law School, underscores ongoing concerns about the technology’s shortcomings and its disproportionate impact on Black people like Williams.

According to the ACLU, Detroit police have agreed to new restrictions that prohibit arrests based solely on facial recognition results. The policy also prohibits arrests based on photo lineups derived from facial recognition searches.

According to ACLU attorney Phil Mayor, police could use facial recognition technology to generate leads and then conduct traditional investigative procedures to determine whether the identified person committed a crime before making an arrest.

Read also: China proposes facial recognition measures and requires “individual consent”

Political reforms of the Detroit Police Department

In August, Detroit Police Chief James White introduced new policies on facial recognition technology amid an ongoing lawsuit stemming from an incident in which a pregnant woman was mistakenly accused of car theft.

White stressed at the time that police needed to have additional evidence beyond facial recognition technology to determine a suspect’s ability, opportunity and intent to commit a crime.

Under the terms of the agreement with Williams, Detroit police will review cases involving the use of facial recognition from 2017 to 2023. If the investigation reveals that arrests were made without corroborating evidence, they will notify prosecutors.

Detroit is grappling with the fallout from the Robert Williams settlement, which has implications beyond the city’s borders. This settlement signals a step toward accountability and change in the use of facial recognition technology and underscores the need to balance innovation and civil rights.

The responsible use of this technology to pursue justice is critical to preventing harm to individuals like Williams and promoting justice in society.

Related article: Meta is sued in Texas over its facial recognition technology that allegedly violated users’ privacy

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