Detroit Facial Recognition Deal in Doubt Over Racial Bias

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Community pressure has cast doubt on the upcoming renewal of the city of Detroit’s contract with a software company whose facial recognition services have sparked concerns over privacy, racial bias, and a failure to reduce crime, CNET reports. Detroit police data show the department has used the system primarily on Black people.

Police use of facial recognition software has become more contentious as studies have shown such systems are more likely to misidentify people of color. Tawana Petty, director of the Data Justice Program for the Detroit Community Technology Project, said that’s especially critical in Detroit. “Detroit is 80 percent Black, and we have high levels of quality-of-life crime,” Petty said. “Our City Council — their main argument is that community members want to feel safe. My argument is that I live in Detroit too, and I want to feel safe too.” One local Black man, Robert Williams, was wrongly arrested in January as a theft suspect based solely on facial recognition database hit, in what advocates say is a first in the nation. Police Chief James Craig apologized, but City Council delayed what had been an expected renewal of the city’s $1.2 million contract with DataWorks and activists are scrambling to win a negative vote when it comes back up later in July.

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