A facial recognition tool identified a Black man, Randall Reid, as a suspect in a theft in Louisiana KossyDerrickBlog KossyDerrickEnt

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Wednesday, January 4, 2023

A facial recognition tool identified a Black man, Randall Reid, as a suspect in a theft in Louisiana

A facial recognition tool identified a Black man as a suspect in a theft in Louisiana. He was arrested 3 states and 7 hours away from the scene of the crime and spent nearly one week in jail. 

But there’s a big problem: The man has never even been to Louisiana. 

Reid is Black, and his arrest brings new attention to the use of a technology critics say results in a higher rate of misidentification of people of color than of white people.

Louisiana authorities’ use of facial recognition technology led to the mistaken-identity arrest of a Georgia man on a fugitive warrant, an attorney said in a case that renews attention to racial disparities in the use of the digital tool.

Randall Reid, 28, was jailed in late November in DeKalb County, Georgia, The Times-Picayune/The New Orleans Advocate reported.

His attorney, Tommy Calogero, said authorities erroneously linked Reid to purse thefts in Jefferson Parish and Baton Rouge. Reid, arrested on Nov. 25, was released Dec. 1.

Reid is Black, and his arrest brings new attention to the use of a technology critics say results in a higher rate of misidentification of people of color than of white people.

Calogero said Reid was falsely linked to the June theft of luxury purses from a consignment shop in Metairie, a New Orleans suburb in Jefferson Parish.

A Baton Rouge Police Department detective then adopted the Jefferson Parish Sheriff’s Office’s identification of Reid to secure an arrest warrant alleging he was among three men involved in another luxury purse theft the same week, court records show, according to the newspaper. 

Differences, such as a mole on Reid’s face, prompted the Jefferson sheriff to rescind the warrant, said Calogero, who estimated a 40-pound difference between Reid and the purse thief in surveillance footage.

Jefferson Sheriff Joe Lopinto’s office did not respond to several requests for information from The Times-Picayune/The New Orleans Advocate on Reid’s arrest and release, the agency’s use of facial recognition or any safeguards around it.

The agency did not immediately respond to a request, emailed Monday by The Associated Press, for comment on the story and information on the use of the technology. Police in New Orleans say facial recognition can be used only to generate leads and that officers must get approval from department officials before lodging a request through the Louisiana State Analytic and Fusion Exchange in Baton Rouge. Under the latest city rules, all possible matches must undergo a peer review by other facial recognition investigators.

Legislation to restrict the use of facial recognition statewide died in a 2021 legislative session. A facial recognition tool identified Reid as a suspect in the theft of the luxury purses, and that was all the cops needed to put him in jail, according to the New Orleans Advocate. According to Reid’s lawyer Tommy Calogero, he’s a good 40 pounds lighter than the criminal in the surveillance tape. Law enforcement let him go and admitted the false match “tacitly,” Calogero said.

Facial recognition, though useful, is far from perfect. Numerous studies show the technology is especially inaccurate when identifying people of color and women compared to identifications of white men. Some law enforcement officials regularly acknowledge this fact, saying facial recognition is only suitable to generate leads and should never be used as the sole basis for arrest warrants. But there are very few rules governing the technology. Cops often ignore that advice and take face recognition at face value.

Reid is only the latest seemingly innocent Black man to wind up in jail as a result of facial recognition’s errors. The technology has led to at least three wrongful arrests, and using facial recognition as the only justification to put suspects behind bars is a troubling and growing trend, according to Clare Garvie, training resource counsel with the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers.

G“Facial recognition offers the promise of accurate and speedy identification in circumstances where law enforcement might not have other ways to identify suspects, but that assumption has never been tested or confirmed,” Garvie said. “When law enforcement officials use the technology as the sole basis for arrests, they are relying on unproven methods.”

Our world is absolutely saturated with facial recognition technology and other biometric sensors. But we don’t know how these tools are used, or under what circumstances. Last year, 13 out of 14 federal government agencies told Congress they have no idea how often they use facial recognition technology, or even which of their employees have access to it.


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