Robert Williams facial recognition wrongful arrest
Occurred: April 2021
Robert Williams, 42, was arrested in January 2020 for reputedly stealing five high-end watches at a store in Detroit in October 2018. However, Williams had been misidentified by facial recognition technology used by the Detroit Police Department, inflicting significant emotional damage on Williams and his family.
A detective had used facial recognition technology on a grainy image from the store's CCTV video, with the system flagging Williams as a potential match based on a driver’s license photograph. A security guard who had not been present at the incident then identified Williams in a photo line-up of Black males.
Arrested in front of his family, Williams had been arrested, arraigned, detained for 30 hours and questioned in connection with a crime that took place in a store he hadn't visited since 2014. Prosecutors and police later apologised for how the case was handled.
In April 2021, Williams sued (pdf) the Detroit Police Department for wrongfully arresting and jailing him. He was the first person known to have been arrested in the US because of a facial recognition failure.
Detroit Police Chief James Craig had earlier admitted facial recognition technology misidentified suspects in 96 percent of cases.
Operator: Detroit Police Department
Developer: DataWorks Plus
Sector: Govt - police
Purpose: Strengthen law enforcement
Technology: Facial recognition
Issue: Accuracy/reliability; Bias/discrimination - race, ethnicity
Transparency: Governance; Black box
ACLU (2021). The Fight to Stop Facial Recognition Technology
ACLU (2020). Michael Williams press release
ACLU (2020). Michael Williams complaint
ACLU (2020). Michael Williams video
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Published: March 2023