News July 16, 2021 at 12:00 pm

How a Black teen was barred from a skating rink after facial recognition camera misidentified her

Francis Akhalbey | Content Manager

Francis Akhalbey July 16, 2021 at 12:00 pm

July 16, 2021 at 12:00 pm | News

Lamya Robinson was kicked out of a skating rink after the facility's facial recognition software misidentified her -- Screenshot via FOX 2

The parents of a Black teenage girl are exploring the possibility of taking legal action against a Michigan skating rink that kicked their daughter out of its establishment after its facial recognition software misidentified her.

According to FOX 2, staff at Riverside Arena skating rink in Livonia ordered Lamya Robinson to leave the facility after she was misidentified for another person accused of partaking in a brawl as far back as March. The staff had based their allegation and subsequent decision on the facility’s facial recognition software. But there was a plot twist to the incident. That was Lamya’s first time at that skating rink.

In an interview with the news outlet, Lamya’s mother, Juliea Robinson, accused the Riverside Arena skating rink of racially profiling her daughter. “To me, it’s basically racial profiling,” Juliea said. “You’re just saying every young Black, brown girl with glasses fits the profile and that’s not right.”

The July 10 incident occurred after Lamya was dropped off at the said skating rink by her mother to hang out with her friends. However, the teenager was barred from entering after her face was run through the facility’s facial recognition system. The staff informed her she was banned because she had previously gotten into a brawl at the establishment.

“I was like, that is not me. Who is that?” Lamya said. “I was so confused because I’ve never been there.”

The police were not involved in the incident. But Lamya’s parents called out the skating rink for endangering their daughter’s safety after she was kicked out. “You all put my daughter out of the establishment by herself, not knowing what could have happened,” the teen’s father, Derrick Robinson, said.

“It just happened to be a blessing that she was calling in frustration to talk to her cousin, but at the same time he pretty much said I’m not that far, let me go see what’s wrong with her.”

Meanwhile, Riverside Arena released a statement apologizing over the incident and explaining what happened.

“One of our managers asked Ms. Robinson (Lamya’s mother) to call back sometime during the week. He explained to her, this our usual process, as sometimes the line is quite long and it’s a hard look into things when the system is running,” the statement said.

“The software had her daughter at a 97 percent match. This is what we looked at, not the thumbnail photos Ms. Robinson took a picture of, if there was a mistake, we apologize for that.”

Critics have long argued facial recognition technology is skewed. Over the years, various studies have provided proof that facial recognition tools are often biased against minorities. A 2019 study by the National Institute of Standards and Technology found that though the technology works relatively well on white men, it provides less accurate results for other demographics, and experts have blamed this on a lack of diversity in the images used to develop the databases.

In June last year, Face2Face Africa reported a facial recognition misidentification incident in what is said to be the first known case of its type. Robert Julian-Borchak Williams, a Black man in Detroit, was arrested in front of his wife and two daughters after being mistakenly identified as a thief by a facial recognition algorithm. It later turned out that the software had mistakenly identified two Black men as the same person.

Besides a number of law enforcement agencies, some other businesses in the United States also use facial recognition technology. “Facial recognition does not accurately recognize darker skin tones,” Tawana Petty, an activist calling for retailers to ban the use of facial recognition on its staff or customers in their facilities, said.

“So, I don’t want to go to Walmart and be tackled by an officer or security guard, because they misidentified me for something I didn’t do,” Petty added.

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