An African-American arrested wrongly because of the facial recognition technology

Un Afro-Américain arrêté à tort à cause de la technologie de reconnaissance faciale

An African-American has been arrested wrongly because of the use by the police of the facial-recognition technology, the first error of this type documented in the United States, according to a complaint filed Wednesday in Detroit.

In early January, Robert Williams spent 30 hours in detention because a software had considered to be identical to the photo of his driving licence and the picture of a thief watches captured by surveillance cameras, according to the complaint.

He had been arrested and handcuffed in front of him, in the presence of his wife and two daughters aged 2 and 5 years. “How do you explain to two little girls that a computer is wrong, but that the police still listened to?”, he wrote in a column published by the Washington Post.

According to his story, after a night in a cell, the agents asked him if he was already gone in a jewelry store in Detroit, a large industrial city to the north, and showed him the two blurry photos of a black man.

“I took the paper and I put it near my face saying: “I hope you don’t think all black men look the same.” The police officers looked at each other and one of them said: “The computer had to get it wrong'”, he says.

The facial-recognition technology, used since several years by various police services in the United States, without a legal framework federal, is accused of a lack of reliability in the identification of minority, particularly black or asian. But no specific cases of error had not previously been documented.

Since the death of George Floyd, a middle-aged black asphyxiated by a white policeman in Minneapolis on may 28, the Americans claim that, during demonstrations across the country, police reforms, and the activists argue in particular for the abandonment of this technology.

Many companies, anxious to respond to this mobilisation, such as Amazon, IBM or Microsoft have suspended the sale of id software to the police, as long as clear rules have not been set. Cities such as San Francisco or Springfield have also abandoned this technology.

The powerful association of civil rights ACLU has filed an administrative complaint Wednesday on behalf of Robert Williams in front of the city hall of Detroit to get his criminal record be purged of any reference to this incident and to call for the abandonment of the facial recognition by the police of the city.

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