Detroit officials deny police use real-time facial recognition with city surveillance network

City officials in Detroit have blasted a report from Georgetown Law’s Center on Privacy and Technology (CPIT) as “completely false and misleading,” saying the city does not use public real-time biometric facial recognition as part of its controversial Project Green Light, Detroit Metro Times reports.

CPIT highlights Detroit’s million-dollar, three-year contract for real-time facial recognition signed with DataWorks Plus in 2017 in the “America Under Watch” report. Wired has reported that Detroit is not currently using the real-time capability. The system of more than 500 public surveillance cameras was launched in 2016 with cameras at locations with late-night traffic, and has since been expanded to include Grand Circus Park, which the Metro Times reports is a popular location for protests and other gatherings, and a medical center, among numerous locations the researchers say people may desire privacy while obeying the law.

Police Chief James Craig wrote in a letter to the researchers that police would not “violate the rights of law-abiding citizens,” and took issue with the characterization of the system as “Orwellian.”

“If there is a report of a crime or a crime is witnessed by a DPD member, the crime is reported to sworn members to investigate,” Craig wrote. “If there is an articulable reasonable suspicion that an individual is observed or reported to have committed a crime, only then is their still image provided for analysis with the Facial Recognition program.”

“The only time it is used is after a crime is committed and investigators go back through video to pull a still image of a suspect to try and determine his or her identity,” city spokesperson John Roach says, as reported by the Metro Times.

In the report, which also says Chicago contracted DataWorks Plus for its city surveillance system, researchers Clare Garvie and Laura M. Moy call for a moratorium on public facial recognition until privacy concerns are adequately dealt with, and comprehensive regulation of law enforcement use of facial recognition by state legislators.

Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan announced in March that police will have access to hundreds of cameras installed at intersections over the next few years.

Controversy around the use of public facial recognition by law enforcement seems to be coming to a head with the recent passage of major restrictions on the technology’s use in San Francisco.

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