An Black man spent a week in jail in Louisiana in December because of a failure of facial recognition technology, it was reported today.

Such technology being used in law enforcement is already controversial, with many experts saying that it could lead to wrongful arrests and has already been proved to show a racial bias sometimes. Many Americans have aired concern about facial recognition software in the hands of police heralding a kind of Orwellian reality, which so far has compelled some companies to scale back their development of it.

That doesn’t mean it’s not used by law enforcement. Its latest innocent victim was a 28-year-old man from Georgia named Randall Reid, who was arrested for allegedly stealing $10,000 worth of luxury handbags in Louisiana. He later claimed that he’d never even visited the state, never mind committed a crime there.

Police had used the software to secure a warrant and later Reid spent a week in jail, proving yet again that when an algorithm can be used to ascertain who committed a criminal act, it can easily get it wrong where Black faces are concerned. Critics of the technology said this is exactly why some cities and states in the U.S. have refused to employ the technology, while some supporters of the tech have said it might be fine to generate leads with it, but it shouldn’t be used as the sole reason for attaining an arrest warrant.

There have been other cases where the technology proved to be flawed when it came to Black Americans, leading some men to lodge a lawsuit against the authorities after being wrongfully arrested and spending time in jail.

In each case, critics said police were using an unproven technology and the results were devastating for the innocent men who for all intents and purposes were taken from their homes on a hunch – something that should never happen in the U.S. It might just turn out that facial recognition does not work. It took many years, many life sentences and in some cases death sentences, to realize that bite-mark forensic analysis was also completely untrustworthy.

The American Civil Liberties Union told The New York Times in 2020 that many people had come forward after being arrested by what the ACLU called “flawed and privacy-invading surveillance technology.” One of the problems for the public is a lack of transparency. People don’t usually know if the police in their state are using facial recognition software and if they are, to what extent. In 2022, at a congressional hearing, even the lawmakers for the most part were shocked that some government agencies didn’t even know how facial recognition was being used by their employees.

After the recent false positive in Louisiana, critics told the press the use of this “powerful surveillance tool” is being expanded without many people’s knowledge. As for Reid, he said he might lose his job over the matter and said he has lost sleep through stress, even though the man he was matched with was not his height and seemingly nowhere near his weight.

“There are 300 million people in this country,” he told the New Orleans Advocate newspaper. “All of us have someone who appears identical to us.”

Photo: Lianhao Qu/Unsplash

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