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ACLU of Michigan wants answers about state's use of facial recognition technology

Sarah Cwiek
Michigan Radio

The American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan wants to know more about how facial recognition technology is being used by the state.

It submitted two Freedom of Information Act requests on Thursday, one to the Michigan State Police and the otherto the Michigan Secretary of State's Office.

The MSP maintains a comprehensive database called the Statewide Network of Agency Photos (SNAP).  SNAP contains about 50 million photos, including every Michigan driver's license and state ID photo. It also includes mugshots and Michigan Department of Corrections photos. There can be multiple images of the same person.

The ACLU wants more information about what is in the SNAP database, what facial recognition searches the MSP performs on the database, and MSP's arrangements to share the database with local law enforcement agencies. It also wants to know whether facial recognition resources are shared with federal immigration authorities.

"We don't know what localities are tapping into the statewide database and under what circumstances and under what checks and balances," said Phil Mayor, senior staff attorney for the ACLU of Michigan. "We don't know what audits are being done and whether or not there have been any instances of misuse of the database and if so, what discipline has resulted."

MSP spokesperson Shanon Banner provided a list of frequently asked questions about facial recognition technology. Banner said in an email that it "answers many of the questions posed by the ACLU in their FOIA request."

The ACLU said it opposes the use of facial recognition technology.

"Facial recognition technology is known to be racially biased," said Mayor. "And it also presents a fundamental threat to our privacy because it allows the government to track and monitor us based on our faces."

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