Facial recognition technology approved in Detroit despite mounting opposition

Sep 20, 2019 at 10:09 am
click to enlarge Detroit's Real Time Crime Center. - Steve Neavling
Steve Neavling
Detroit's Real Time Crime Center.

The Detroit Board of Police Commissioners approved a new policy governing the use of facial recognition technology on Thursday, despite mounting opposition from the public and civil rights groups.

But the fate of the technology hangs in the balance because Detroit City Council and the Michigan House and Senate are considering imposing a moratorium on the technology, which has been criticized as unconstitutional and unreliable.

The commission voted 8-3 to approve the new policy, which limits the police department’s use of the $1 million software. Under the new policy, police are prohibited from using the technology for immigration enforcement, minor crimes, and identifying people during protests.

Commissioners Willie Bell, Elizabeth Brooks, Shirley Burch, Lisa Carter, Eva Garza Dewaelsche, Evette Griffie, Annie Holt and Jim Holley voted in support of the policy. Those opposed were commissioners Willie Burton, Darryl Brown, and William Davis.

“Today was a setback in the fight for civil liberties and democracy,” Burton told Metro Times. “By approving this policy, the DBOPC showed it doesn’t care about the voice of the people and is just an appendage of the police department.”

He added, “The people will not be silent, and we will take our fight to Lansing.”

With no public input, the Detroit Police Department has been using the technology for nearly two years. The department faced a backlash following an alarming study by Georgetown Law’s Center on Privacy & Technology in May. Researchers said Detroit’s extensive surveillance network and its $1 million facial recognition software “risks fundamentally changing the nature of our public spaces.”

Detroit's facial recognition software is especially pervasive because it's used on a quickly expanding surveillance network of high-definition cameras under Mayor Mike Duggan's Project Green Light, a crime-fighting initiative that began in 2016 at gas stations and fast-food restaurants. Since then, the city has installed more than 500 surveillance cameras at parks, schools, low-income housing complexes, immigration centers, gas stations, churches, abortion clinics, hotels, health centers, apartments, and addiction treatment centers. Now, the city is installing high-definition cameras at roughly 500 intersections at a time when other cities are scaling back because of privacy concerns.

Residents and civil liberty groups teamed up to oppose the technology, saying it will lead to false arrests.

Detroit Police Chief James Craig said he’s aware of the public’s concerns and will ensure the technology is not abused or misused.

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