BY Dollita Okine, 5:50pm July 04, 2024,

Man awarded $300,000 after being wrongfully detained because of facial recognition

Williams was not the perpetrator since he was traveling home from work at the time of the crime. Photo Credit: ACLU

Robert Williams was detained in 2020 after he was suspected of stealing expensive watches. This occurred after Detroit police used facial recognition software to compare Williams’ driver’s license photo to the blurry CCTV footage of the alleged theft.

However, Williams was not the perpetrator since he was traveling home from work at the time of the crime. Williams was arrested and held in jail for more than 24 hours but he defended himself in court and the charges were eventually dropped. According to the Guardian, Williams’ detention was the first documented incidence of someone being unlawfully imprisoned using face recognition technology, which is widely employed by police departments and government entities in the United States.

Last April, he testified before the California Assembly, which is examining multiple suggestions for police use of the technology. Williams said, “It’s dangerous when it works and even more dangerous when it doesn’t work.”

He wrote in a letter to the California assembly’s public safety committee saying, “In my case, Detroit police were supposed to treat face recognition matches as an investigative lead, not as the only proof they need to charge someone with a crime. They should have collected corroborating evidence such as an eyewitness identification, cell phone location data or a fingerprint. They had none of that – just an out-of-focus image of a large Black man in a baseball cap that a faulty algorithm had determined was me.”

The offended man also recounted in a release from the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), “The Detroit Police Department’s abuses of facial recognition technology completely upended my life.” 

“My wife and young daughters had to watch helplessly as I was arrested for a crime I didn’t commit, and by the time I got home from jail, I had already missed my youngest losing her first tooth, and my eldest couldn’t even bear to look at my picture. Even now, years later, it still brings them to tears when they think about it.”

He continued, “The scariest part is that what happened to me could have happened to anyone. But, at least with this settlement, it will be far less likely to happen again to another person in Detroit.”

As part of a lawsuit settlement on Friday, the city of Detroit agreed to pay Williams $300,000 and make modifications to how police utilize face recognition software when making arrests, the Associated Press reported.

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.

Last Edited by:Mildred Europa Taylor Updated: July 4, 2024


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