Detroit Police Department agrees to new rules around facial recognition tech

As part of a legal settlement, the Detroit Police Department has agreed to new guardrails limiting how it can use facial recognition technology.

These new policies prohibit the police from arresting people based solely on the results of a facial recognition search, or on the results of photo lineups conducted immediately after a facial recognition search. It also states that photo lineups cannot be conducted solely on the basis of facial recognition — instead, there must be additional evidence linking a suspect to the crime.

The policies — which can be enforced by a court for the next four years — also require police training around the risks and dangers of facial recognition tech and an audit of all cases since 2017 where facial recognition was used to obtain an arrest warrant.

Roger Williams, a Black man who was arrested after being identified by facial recognition tech, had sued the police department and was represented by lawyers from the American Civil Liberties Union and the Civil Rights Litigation Initiative at the University of Michigan Law School.

In announcing the settlement, the ACLU described it as achieving “the nation’s strongest police department policies and practices constraining law enforcement’s use of this dangerous technology.” It also noted that women and people of color are "substantially more likely to be misidentified by facial recognition technology."

“With this painful chapter of our lives closing, my wife and I will continue raising awareness about the dangers of this technology," Williams said in a statement.

He reportedly spent 30 hours in jail after he was wrongly identified as a man captured on surveillance footage stealing five watches from a store in downtown Detroit. His driver’s license photo came up in a facial recognition search of a database of mugshots and license photos, and the security contractor who provided the footage agreed he was the best match, leading to his arrest.

Prosecutors later dropped the charges. The police department said it’s also paying Williams $300,000 as part of the settlement.

In a statement of its own, the police department said it is “pleased with its work with the ACLU and University of Michigan over the last year and a half,” adding that it “firmly” believes the new policy “will serve as a national best practice and model for other agencies using this technology.”

Cities including San Francisco have banned the use of facial recognition by law enforcement. Microsoft also recently banned police departments from using its AI tech for facial recognition.