Can facial recognition wrongly identify a suspect?

On Behalf of | Dec 28, 2021 | blog

Law enforcement employs various technologies to identify criminal suspects. Sometimes the police have surveillance video or a picture of a person suspected of a crime and use facial-recognition software to match a suspect’s identity. Unfortunately, facial recognition is not infallible and may lead to an arrest of an innocent person.

The experience of a police arrest can be a degrading one if you are innocent of a criminal offense. It may be even worse if the police arrest you in front of your family and you must bear the shame of explaining why the police had arrested you.

How wrong identification led to an arrest

Forbes chronicles a recent instance where facial recognition wrongly identified someone as a thief. In 2020, the Michigan State Police sought to identify a suspect from surveillance footage who stole from a watch store. They used a facial recognition program to match the identity of an African American man in Detriot. The police arrested him only to find out later that he was not the man in the surveillance video.

The arrested man had to spend 30 hours behind bars until the police realized their error and released him from custody. Adding to the man’s humiliation, the police had arrested him in front of his wife and two daughters.

Probable cause must exist for an arrest

Facial recognition may help the police at times, but it is not perfect. In fact, facial recognition may disproportionately affect minorities. The Forbes piece explains that the wrongly arrested man was African American. Additionally, the article pointed out studies have found some facial recognition programs have been more likely to misidentify African Americans and Asians than other groups.

A spokesman for the Michigan State Police emphasized that facial recognition only provides an investigative lead and does not constitute probable cause for an arrest. Police officers in Chicago or any city who fail to find convincing evidence for an arrest run the risk of violating a person’s civil rights. This could lead to litigation for a wrongful arrest, wrongful conviction or racial profiling depending on the specifics of the case.