Louisiana police used facial recognition technology to incorrectly identify a suspected thief, resulting in a Black man’s wrongful arrest and imprisonment for a week. It’s not the first time it has happened, and the U.S. has no laws to prevent similar incidents from happening in the future.
The legal enforcement agencies involved in the recent arrest have refused to answer media inquiries, raising concerns about the hidden governmental use of such technology, its racial biases, and other failings.
The Jefferson Parish Sheriff’s Office (JPSO) secured a warrant for 28-year-old Randal Reid after it used face ID tech to wrongly identify him as one of three suspects wanted for the theft of over $10,000 in stolen Chanel and Louis Vuitton purses during the group’s three-day crime spree in June 2022.
Reid’s attorney Tommy Calogero said that the actual suspect, captured on security camera footage, was 40-pound heavier than Reid and lacked Reid’s facial mole. Nevertheless, police in Georgia apprehended him on JPSO’s warrant on November 25 while he was driving with his mother around the Thanksgiving holiday.
“They told me I had a warrant out of Jefferson Parish. I said, ‘What is Jefferson Parish?,’” Reid told NOLA.com. “I have never been to Louisiana a day in my life. Then they told me it was for theft. So not only have I not been to Louisiana, I also don’t steal.”
Reid remained in the DeKalb County jail until December 1, 2022, when JPSO detectives “tacitly” admitted the error and rescinded the July warrant.
“[I was] not eating, not sleeping,” Reid said of his time in jail. “I’m thinking about these charges. Not doing anything because I don’t know what’s really going on the whole time.”
Despite the mistake, the JPSO has been stonewalling journalists who want to look into their error.
“Sheriff Joe Lopinto’s office did not respond to several requests for information on Reid’s arrest and release, the agency’s use of facial recognition or any safeguards around it. That office also denied a formal request for the July 18 arrest warrant for Reid and copies of policies or purchases related to facial recognition, citing an ongoing investigation,” NOLA.com reported, adding that the warrant for Reid’s arrest doesn’t mention how he was identified.
Louisiana lacks a statewide law restricting the use of facial recognition technology in policing. A 2021 bill to regulate the technology died in the legislature after being opposed by members of the Louisiana Sheriffs’ Association and the Louisiana District Attorneys’ Association.
Requests for facial recognition analyses are directed through the state’s intelligence hub, the Louisiana State Analytic and Fusion Exchange in Baton Rouge. The hub reportedly uses two facial recognition providers: Clearview AI and Morphotrak.
Clearview AI uses “tens of billions of images … sourced from public-only web sources, including news media, mugshot websites, public social media, and many other open sources,” its website states.
Experts from the ACLU of Louisana and the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) told the aforementioned publication that research shows a tendency for facial recognition technology to more frequently misidentify people of color, Common Dreams reported.
It’s unclear whether any facial matches are peer-reviewed by other facial recognition investigators. It’s also unclear how many police offices use the technology, though some say they only use it to generate “leads” in cases where suspects haven’t yet been identified.
“Cops are using facial recognition without disclosing the fact that they’re using it,” the digital rights organization Fight for the Future wrote about the arrest on Twitter. “Police can scan your face using your driver’s license photo, pics on social media, and more,” the group added. “You can be arrested, your life can be upended because of a machine’s mistake.”
Fight for the Future and allied groups have launched a “Ban Facial Recognition” campaign to track the technology’s use and state restrictions on it.
“Despite some progress in restricting or banning law enforcement’s use of such tools at the local and state levels, the United States still lacks federal law on the topic,” Common Dreams reported.