Michigan has the sad distinction of being a leader in the use of facial recognition surveillance technology, which has been shown to be inaccurate, racially biased, and an unprecedented threat to personal privacy. In 2016 the Detroit Police Department purchased facial recognition software and used it for years without approval from the Board of Police Commissioners.

In August 2019 the ACLU of Michigan and a coalition of civil rights organizations sent a letter urging the Detroit Police Department to end the use of this dangerous recognition technology. In 2020 the kind of miscarriage of justice we had long warned about came to light. In January, Detroit police officers arrested Robert Williams on his front lawn, in front of his wife and two young daughters, on charges that he had stolen watches from a Shinola store in Detroit. The arrest was based entirely on a facial recognition scan from security footage at the Shinola store, but it was dead wrong: Mr. Williams was not the man in the security footage and was nowhere near the store at the time of the theft.

In June 2020 the ACLU of Michigan filed a formal complaint with the Detroit Police Department asking the police to apologize to Mr. Williams and his family for what happened, and repeating our plea for the department to stop using facial recognition technology. The story attracted nationwide media attention and city officials publicly apologized, but the Detroit Police Department continues to use facial recognition for law enforcement purposes.

(ACLU Attorney Phil Mayor with community outreach coordinator Rodd Monts and communications strategist Abdullah Hassan; co-counsel Victoria Burton-Harris.) 

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