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Kaffer: Detroit police's use of facial recognition technology creates concerns

African American man with facial recognition scan
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Detroit police want to expand their use of surveillance cameras. That has raised questions about the use of facial recognition technology in the city.

New technology brings with it new powers and questions. Since Detroit police began using facial recognition technology, there have been questions about how if it should be used, if it should be used at all.

Update: Tuesday, July 30, 7:40 a.m. The debate about police use of facial recognition software continues in Detroit.

Experts and activists shared their concerns about the technology at a forum Monday. Some experts say their fears about the technology extend beyond its current use in Detroit.

Detroit police have been using facial recognition for more than a year. The department says it doesn’t use the technology for real-time surveillance, nor does it plan to.

But some say that’s not enough to guarantee that facial recognition isn’t used to violate people’s civil liberties now or in the future.

Tawana Petty is with the Detroit Community Technology Project.

“I think the fact that our DPD leadership and our city government doesn’t really understand the implications of this technology is really leading them to lead us astray,” she says.

Petty also questions why Detroit would push forward with facial recognition when it’s known to have a higher error rate with people of color.

The Detroit police department says there are multiple checks and balances to prevent potential misidentification.

Clare Garvie is with the Georgetown University Center on Privacy and Technology. She says that still doesn’t address some fundamental concerns.

“It could be a new administration that comes in and says, ‘we would love to use face recognition as a surveillance tool,’” she says. “So that’s not a meaningful check against potential abuse or misuse.”

Detroit’s board of police commissioners still has not formally approved an oversight policy for the technology.

A bill introduced in the State House would put a five-year moratorium on the technology in Michigan.

Original post: Friday, July 26, 5:30 a.m. Listen above to Morning Edition host Doug Tribou's conversation with Detroit Free Press columnist Nancy Kaffer about the technology.

Kaffer also wrote about the issue in a column titled, "Detroit police need to answer questions about facial recognition."

You can read more of Kaffer’s writing on the opinion page at Freep.com. You also can follow her on Twitter.

Sarah Cwiek joined Michigan Public in October 2009. As our Detroit reporter, she is helping us expand our coverage of the economy, politics, and culture in and around the city of Detroit.
Doug Tribou joined the Michigan Public staff as the host of Morning Edition in 2016. Doug first moved to Michigan in 2015 when he was awarded a Knight-Wallace journalism fellowship at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor.
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