Facial recognition tech, loss of liberty argued at DPD meeting

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Some argue facial recognition technology is a high-tech way to fight crime, others worry it is an invasion of our privacy.

Police say that technology has already been in use but it needs the board of police commissioners to sign off on it. Detroiters weighed in and argued their cases Thursday night at St. John Lutheran Church.

“Any technology that can help law enforcement do its job and apprehend criminals, I am down with,” said Thomas Wilson.

“Anyone who would sacrifice liberty for a little temporary security, deserves neither,” said Eric Williams, Detroit Justice Center.

Assistant Police Chief James White sought to address residents' concerns of the Detroit Police Department doubling as big brother.

“This technology is meant to use for perpetrators who rob, rape, criminal sexual conduct, shoot and murder,” White said. “It is to improve public safety, it is not to issue traffic tickets, it is not to garner information from the innocent, it is not to create a data base.”

Those assurances were cold comfort to skeptical Detroiters.

“The very same people that are creating this technology have already banned it,” said George Byers. “San Francisco, Silicon Valley, has already banned this software. We don’t need it in our city, it makes no sense.”

George Byers is a software engineer.

“My number one concern is the fact that the software itself, has not been proven,” Byers said. “It has been studied and tested by M.I.T., Georgetown University, just to name a few, (and thought to be) inaccurate. Especially for people with darker pigmentation. We live in a majority black city, so that's kind of a problem.”

“The standard that they are using in order to follow somebody around, using facial recognition technology is a standard that wouldn’t even allow them to stop somebody from walking down the street.”

Eric Williams, a senior attorney for the Detroit Justice Center, reviewed DPD's proposed policy and is adamantly against it.

Detroit council member Mary Sheffield has a lot of questions.

“How is the data going to be used, will it be shared, how long will it be kept, what areas is it going to be deployed in – all of those questions need to be answered,” she said. “They need to be answered in a public setting, where the people actually have input in the decision making process.”

Some Detroiters are clearly behind DPD's use of the tech to solve major crimes. Pastor Maurice Hardwick from the Live in Peace Movement, is one of them.

“We have to drive crime down using every ability of tool we can use to make our citizens safe,” he said.

Sheffield wants to introduce an ordinance that requires city council to approve the policy after the board of commissioners does.