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U.S. Rep. Tlaib calls for moratorium on facial recognition technology used by Detroit police

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U.S. Rep. Rashida Tlaib

U.S. Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib wants law enforcement to stop using facial recognition software to identify criminal suspects.

A report from the Georgetown Law Center on Privacy and Technology found Detroit is one of the first and largest cities to use the technology.

The report also says the software makes mistakes, especially when it's used to identify people with darker skin. Those mistakes can lead to false arrests. 

Last month, the U.S. House Committee on Oversight and Reform held a hearing on the use of the technology by law enforcement. Tlaib (D-Mich) serves on the committee and was at the hearing.

“There just seems to be a lot of unanswered questions,” she told Michigan Radio on Friday. “That to me is very much calling for a moratorium and back off in using this technology until we do something about it on the federal level.”

Detroit police chief James Craig says the department only uses the technology to identify suspects where there is “articulable reasonable suspicion” that the person committed a crime.

“DPD does not violate the constitutional rights of citizens,” he wrote in a letter last month, responding to the Georgetown report. “As emphasized in our policies, the Facial Recognition software is only utilized within the ambits and parameters of the law to assist law enforcement in reports of criminal activity.”

"I want to know how many people have been identified using that, how many people have been charged using that," said Tlaib. "And how many people have even been actually hurt."

But Tlaib was not swayed. She says she’s also asked for more information from the FBI regarding the technology, and what she heard from the agency was “very alarming.”

“I want to know how many people have been identified using that, how many people have been charged using that,” she said. “And how many people have even been actually hurt – maybe unintentional – but taking away somebody’s freedom even for a short period of time, violates their civil liberties and civil rights.”

Tlaib says she would support legislation to regulate the use of facial recognition technology. That’s something that both Republicans and Democrats on the U.S. House Oversight Committee seem to agree on.

In the meantime, though, she says law enforcement agencies should stop using the technology altogether.

Dustin Dwyer reports enterprise and long-form stories from Michigan Public’s West Michigan bureau. He was a fellow in the class of 2018 at the Nieman Foundation for Journalism at Harvard. He’s been with Michigan Public since 2004, when he started as an intern in the newsroom.