Detroit Agrees to Pay $300,000 and Reform Facial Recognition Use in Settlement with Wrongly Accused Man

Detroit Agrees to Pay $300,000 and Reform Facial Recognition Use in Settlement with Wrongly Accused Man

Detroit will pay $300,000 to Robert Williams, who was wrongly accused of shoplifting due to facial recognition errors. The settlement includes reforms on police use of the technology to prevent future mistakes.

Bollywood Fever: The city of Detroit has agreed to pay $300,000 to a man who was wrongly accused of shoplifting and to change how police use facial recognition technology to solve crimes. This settlement comes in response to a lawsuit filed by Robert Williams, whose driver’s license photo was incorrectly flagged as a likely match to a man seen on security video at a Shinola watch store in 2018.

Detroit Agrees to Pay $300,000 and Reform Facial Recognition Use in Settlement with Wrongly Accused Man

Settlement Details and Impact

“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 told reporters. “Even though what we would like for them to do is not use it at all.”

The agreement, announced by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and the Civil Rights Litigation Initiative at the University of Michigan law school, highlights the perceived flaws and racial biases in facial recognition technology. Williams is Black, and the ACLU has argued that such technology disproportionately misidentifies people of color.

Changes to Facial Recognition Policies

Under the new settlement, Detroit police will be prohibited from arresting individuals based solely on facial recognition results. Additionally, arrests cannot be made based on photo lineups generated from a facial recognition search. Phil Mayor, an ACLU attorney, emphasized that while facial recognition can still be used as a lead, traditional investigative methods must substantiate any potential match.

“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,” Mayor said.

Previous and Future Policy Reforms

Detroit police have yet to comment on the settlement. However, last August, Chief James White introduced new policies regarding the use of facial recognition technology. This move followed another incident where a woman, eight months pregnant, was wrongly charged with carjacking. White stated that there must be additional evidence beyond facial recognition to justify suspecting someone of a crime.

The settlement with Williams includes a review of cases from 2017 to 2023 where facial recognition was utilized. If it is found that an arrest was made without independent evidence, a prosecutor will be notified.

Broader Implications

“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 explained. “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.”

This settlement marks a significant step toward addressing the potential pitfalls of facial recognition technology in law enforcement and underscores the importance of safeguarding civil liberties while leveraging technological advancements.

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