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New Orleans Authorizes Facial Recognition to Identity Suspects

by Michael Dean Thompson

The use of facial recognition systems was banned by the New Orleans City Council in 2020, only to be overturned in July of 2022 in response to fears of rising crime despite concerns within the affected communities about civil rights, privacy, and accuracy.

Facial recognition systems are known to have a high error rate. Much of its success depends on the quality of the image, the availability of multiple source images, and the color of the subject’s skin. Black faces are misidentified at higher rates than white faces. Since most facial recognition systems measure relative distances between cheekbones, eyes, etc., they can look over features that a human eye might find prominent.

In an effort to separate themselves, companies that make the systems each have somewhat different methods of attacking the challenges of facial identification. Those differences can lead to biases that are hidden from the user and the public, resulting in some biases that may only become apparent after millions of runs. The requirement for multiple source images creates additional Fourth Amendment issues for forensic systems with regard to both known-person images (e.g., Facebook, Instagram, etc.) and unknown-person images (e.g., surveillance of protestors, abortion seekers, or crime witnesses which might come from any of the 500 cameras routed through the city’s Real Time Crime Center).

New Orleans has a plan to help prevent abuse, misidentification, and false arrests, negating the fears of civil rights groups like the American Civil Liberties Union of Louisiana, whose advocacy director worries New Orleans may have acted too quickly to their crime fears. “People in this city are rightly concerned about violence, but the fact is we want to get it right and use tools that will actually help bring a resolution to that, but this just isn’t one of them.”

New Orleans Police Department Sgt. David Barnes said that its use will be limited in scope to prevent potential abuses, according to Fox News Digital. It is not for probable cause, he says. “We cannot make an arrest or get a search warrant or anything based on a facial recognition match. The only thing it does is provide us with the possible ID of someone to see if they are a viable subject.” He added that several layers of review have been created to prevent misidentification.

In an effort to prevent abuse, some additional criteria were added. Fox News Digital reports that only violent crimes may be investigated using facial recognition.

Randall Reid, 28, of Georgia must find that very comforting. New Orleans is the seat for Jefferson Parish, which called for Reid’s arrest in November, just four months after the rule was changed, when the facial recognition system named him for the theft of designer purses from a consignment shop. Reid told reporters, “I have never been to Louisiana a day in my life. Then they told me it was for theft. So, not only have I never been to Louisiana, I don’t steal.”

Unlike the thief, Reid has a mole on his face. There is also an estimated 40-pound difference in weight between him and the thief. These were discovered after his arrest, prompting the Jefferson Sheriff to rescind the warrant.

Sgt. Barnes said, “[Facial recognition] can’t be the first step you go to.... In my opinion, that’s just absolutely, 100%, bad police work and is a misuse of software.”

Sources: foxnews.com, AP News

 

 

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