A Black New Jersey man who reportedly spent 10 days in jail after he was misidentified by facial recognition technology is suing the police and prosecutors.
According to NBC News, Nijeer Parks was misidentified by the software as a suspect who was wanted for shoplifting at a hotel in a 2019 incident. The 33-year-old, in the civil lawsuit filed in Passaic County, stated that his grandmother – on January 30, 2019 – informed him of an arrest warrant for him for allegedly shoplifting at a gift store at Hampton Inn in Woodbridge, and then hitting a police vehicle as he escaped. However, Parks said he neither owned a car nor even had a driver’s license in early 2019.
When he went to the Woodbridge police headquarters on February 5 to try and clear his name, he was rather taken into custody. “As he had previously told the clerk, plaintiff told the interrogators that [he] had never had a driver’s license, that he had never owned a car, and that he had never even been in Woodbridge,” Parks’ attorney, Daniel Sexton, stated in the lawsuit. “Plaintiff also gave … a solid alibi that proved he could not have done what he was suspected of doing.”
Despite that, Parks said he spent 10 days in jail, and the police as well as prosecutors failed to check DNA and fingerprints from the crime scene to corroborate his claim. “Defendant police department was relying solely on the faulty and illegal [facial recognition software] or some analogous program while all evidence and forensics confirmed plaintiff had no relationship to the suspect for the crimes,” Sexton wrote, NBC News reported.
Charges against him were, however, later dropped.
Critics have long argued facial recognition technology is skewed. Over the years, various studies have provided proof that facial recognition tools are often biased against minorities. A 2019 study by the National Institute of Standards and Technology found that though the technology works relatively well on White men, it provides less accurate results for other demographics, and experts have blamed this on a lack of diversity in the images used to develop the databases.
A staff lawyer for the ACLU’s Speech, Privacy, and Technology Project, Nathan Freed Wessler, told NBC News Parks’ detention was due to “flawed and privacy-invading surveillance technology.”
“There are likely many more wrongful interrogations, arrests, and possibly even convictions because of this technology that we still do not know about,” Wessler said. “This technology disproportionately harms the Black community.”
As there are no federal laws on the use of facial recognition technology in the US, states and cities have been stepping in to regulate it. In September, the city of Portland passed what is regarded as the strictest facial recognition ban in the United States. Last year, San Francisco also became the first major city in the country to ban its police department and agencies from using it.