In every reported case where police mistakenly arrested someone using facial recognition, that person has been Black

  • All six known reports of false arrests due to facial recognition technology were made by Black people.
  • As activists have warned for several years, facial recognition technology and AI can exacerbate racial inequity in policing.
  • Several police departments across the country use the technology, with Baltimore police running over 800 searches last year, one expert said.

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For several years, civil liberties groups, tech experts, and activists have warned that the use of facial recognition technology will only increase racial inequities in policing. 

As time goes on, it is becoming even more clear that these warnings were right.

Porcha Woodruff — a mother from Detroit, Michigan — became the first woman to report that police falsely identified her as a suspect using faulty facial recognition, The New York Times reported.

She is now the sixth person to report a false accusation based on facial recognition technology — and every report that came before hers was filed by someone who is Black, according to the Times. 

“I have reviewed the allegations contained in the lawsuit. They are very concerning,” Detroit Police Chief James E. White wrote in a comment to Insider. “We are taking this matter very seriously.”

In May — months after Woodruff’s arrest last February — a research paper from criminal justice experts Thaddeus L. Johnson and Nastasha N. Johnson demonstrated that facial recognition leads police departments to arrest Black people at disproportionately high rates.

“We believe this results from factors that include the lack of Black faces in the algorithms’ training data sets, a belief that these programs are infallible and a tendency of officers’ own biases to magnify these issues,” the researchers wrote in an op-ed for Scientific American.

The research also demonstrated that Black people are overrepresented in databases of mugshots, and that skews AI.

“Consequently AI is more likely to mark Black faces as criminal, leading to the targeting and arresting of innocent Black people,” they wrote.

Several police departments across the country use facial recognition technology to identify suspects in certain investigations.

Wired reported that Deborah Levi, a Maryland public defender, said the Baltimore Police Department ran nearly 800 facial recognition searches in 2022. The Detroit Police Department makes about 125 facial recognition searches each year, the Times reported.

The Baltimore Police Department did not respond to Insider’s request for comment ahead of publication.

In 2020, Detroit’s police chief said their facial recognition technology, when used alone, fails 96% of the time, Insider previously reported.

“This is an extremely dangerous practice that has led to multiple false arrests that we know of,” Phil Mayor, a senior staff attorney at the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan, told the Times.

Mayor currently represents Robert Williams, another Detroit resident who filed a report of a false arrest due to facial recognition technology in 2020.

“Shoddy technology makes shoddy investigations, and police assurances that they will conduct serious investigations do not ring true,” Mayor told the Times.

This story was updated at 4 p.m. to include comment from Detroit Police Chief James E. White.

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Katie Hawkinson