Facial Recognition Lawsuits Spotlights How AI Is Weaponized Against Black People

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A lawsuit filed in Atlanta this month is drawing attention to how AI is being weaponized against Black people by law enforcement. 

According to NBC News, on Sept. 8, Randal Quran Reid filed a lawsuit in federal court that alleges he was arrested using AI that identified him as a man wanted for crimes in Louisiana. But Reid, who prefers to be called Quran, says he’s never visited Louisiana and blames the misuse of facial recognition technology for his false arrest. 

“I was confused and I was angry because I didn’t know what was going on,” Quran told the Associated Press. “They couldn’t give me any information outside of, ‘You’ve got to wait for Louisiana to come take you,’ and there was no timeline on that.”

In the lawsuit, Quran names Jefferson Parish Sheriff Joseph Lopinto and Detective Andrew Bartholomew as defendants.

According to the suit, Bartholomew relied solely on a match generated by facial recognition technology while he was viewing surveillance video. He then used that match to seek an arrest warrant for Reid after a stolen credit card was used to buy two purses for more than $8,000 from a consignment store outside New Orleans in June 2022.

“Bartholomew did not conduct even a basic search into Mr. Reid, which would have revealed that Mr. Reid was in Georgia when the theft occurred,” the lawsuit stated. 

Bartholomew also allegedly never mentioned the use of facial recognition technology in an affidavit seeking the warrant for Reid’s arrest, according to the lawsuit. 

“The use of this technology by law enforcement, even if standards and protocols are in place, has grave civil liberty and privacy concerns,” Sam Starks, a senior attorney with The Cochran Firm in Atlanta, which is representing Quran told NBC News. “And that’s to say nothing about the reliability of the technology itself.”

Bartholomew is accused of false arrest, malicious prosecution and negligence. Lopinto is accused of failing to implement adequate policies around the use of facial recognition technology. The lawsuit seeks unspecified damages. 

But Quran isn’t the only Black person who has filed a lawsuit against law enforcement for its false arrests due to misuse of facial recognition technology. According to NBC News, five Black plaintiffs have filed lawsuits against law enforcement in recent years, all blaming facial recognition technology for being misidentified and wrongly arrested. 

A Black woman in Detroit filed a lawsuit against the city and a police detective after she was falsely arrested while she was eight months pregnant. According to the suit, Porcha Woodruff was arrested after police issued an arrest warrant, alleging robbery and carjacking. 

Although the use of facial recognition technology is gaining steam among law enforcement, studies have shown that the algorithms fuel racial profiling. Black Americans are more likely to be arrested than their white counterparts, which means they are overrepresented in mugshot data. 

The same data is used by facial recognition algorithms. In turn, the algorithm creates the same biases as the White developers who created it. 

In fact, a study by the National Institute of Standards and Technology found that these types of facial recognition algorithms work best at recognizing middle-aged white men. The error rates were highest for Black people, especially Black women.


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