Man wrongfully arrested because of facial recognition software that talks about a ‘humiliating’ experience

Robert Williams spent more than a day in custody at a Detroit detention center in January after an incorrect facial recognition match led to his wrongful arrest, in what the United States Civil Liberties Union alleges is the first case. of this type in the United States.

It is an experience that has stayed with him.

“It felt empty, I guess,” Williams told NBC News in a television interview. “Humiliated is the only word I can think of. I felt humiliated at being arrested.”

Williams, who is black, had been mistaken for someone caught in surveillance video robbing a Shinola watch store in Detroit in October 2018. Michigan state police had used facial recognition software from a company called DataWorks, which uses algorithms from technology companies NEC and Rank One Computing, in the video.

The system incorrectly marked Williams’ driver’s license photo as a coincidence, leading to his arrest. The American Civil Liberties Union alleges that this is the first known wrongful arrest in the United States due to facial recognition technology.

Williams was arrested in front of his wife and little daughters in the driveway of their home and was in custody for about 30 hours. He was released after officers told him the computer was wrong, he said.

He said he did not know why he had been arrested, and that investigators would not tell him the details of his alleged crime, nearly $ 4,000 in merchandise stolen from stores, until the next day.

“I’m locked up and I don’t know why I’m there,” he said. “They fingerprinted me and shot me before someone asked me a question … It is a rush to judge.”

The complaint about Williams’ experience follows widespread protests over the murder of George Floyd by police in Minneapolis, which has fueled national scrutiny of the population’s treatment of American blacks, as well as surveillance tactics. and surveillance in general.

Williams’ arrest, which was made public Wednesday, also occurs when facial recognition technology is under intense scrutiny by technologists, activists, and lawmakers as part of the broader movement to rethink the police in the United States.

Civil liberties and human rights groups, including the ACLU, have long criticized facial recognition software for having inherent racial and gender biases and violating constitutional rights. Williams also alleges that his arrest was due to racism.

On Thursday, legislation was introduced in Congress that would ban the use of facial recognition and other biometric surveillance technologies by federal law enforcement agencies. The bill also stipulates that state and local law enforcement agencies only receive federal funds if similar bans are enacted.

IBM, Amazon and Microsoft recently said they were pausing or abandoning their sale of facial recognition technology.

Although it was a wrongful arrest, Williams said he has not yet received a personal apology for the incident. He said he got goosebumps just thinking about what the arrest might have been like. Both he and his wife said they were thinking of other black men who died at the hands of the police while being arrested.

“He is a big black man and, as we’ve seen for many years, those interactions with the police often don’t go well,” said his wife, Melissa. “It is definitely something I have thought about and what was happening I was thinking about. He had every right to be argumentative or combative, perhaps even with the little information they gave us. He was very calm and I am proud of him for keeping calm, but I don’t think we should say we’re lucky that he was in jail for 30 hours. “

The couple said they are also concerned about the “adverse effects” that Williams’ arrest may have on their young daughters.

“After they drove away with him in the police car, we entered the house and as soon as we walked through the door, they looked out the window and I think he realized that his dad had just walked away and they both started sobbing . “Melissa said.

Her older daughter almost started hyperventilating and couldn’t do her homework without getting excited, as her father usually helps her with it. The couple also said they will never forget how Williams missed a small but important milestone while in police custody.

“He wasn’t there for his first tooth,” said Williams. “Although it was one day, I still missed a milestone in her life.”

“When used incorrectly, we know that it hurts people. When used correctly, we know that it only exacerbates an already racist and unfair criminal legal system.”

In a complaint filed with Detroit police on Wednesday, the ACLU requested that police stop using facial recognition. Williams’ experience shows that “the technology is flawed and that researchers are not competent to make use of such technology,” the organization said.

Both rank one and the Michigan State Police guidelines say that fighting in the face should not be used, nor should it be used, as the basis for arresting an individual.

“It is not accurate enough,” Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan said at a press conference Thursday. “Facial recognition is not definitive. It is not DNA. It will give you three or four images, that is an advantage and from that advantage begins to investigate.”

Duggan said the incident was a “really bad situation” referring to “poor detective work and lower-order prosecutor work,” but said it is inaccurate to say that it is poorly reflected in facial recognition software.

“I am very angry about that case. My apologies to Mr. Williams,” Duggan said. “There is nothing more to say to a man who was arrested that he should not have been arrested, there is no excuse for it. But, in the early days of DNA testing there were these kinds of problems. In the early days of ballistics tests, there were these kinds of problems. What we have to do is make sure the technology is used correctly. “

“When used incorrectly, we know it hurts people,” said Williams’ attorney, Victoria Burton-Harris. “When used correctly, we know it only exacerbates an already racist and unfair criminal legal system. We don’t need this extra layer that complicates these unfair results.”

Burton-Harris said this technology should not be used and that the Williams case is an excellent example of how insecure and unreliable it is.

NEC and DataWorks did not respond to requests for comment. But Rank One CEO Brendan Klare said the way his company’s technology was used in Williams’ case “runs counter to established industry standard best practices.”

In an email, Klare said: “Rank One is unreservedly opposed to any misuse of facial recognition technology, even when a candidate party serves as the probable cause of an arrest.”

He added that Rank One will include a legal way to revoke the use of its software when such use violates its code of ethics and will review what other steps it can take to prevent misuse.