JUST 36 HOURS TO GO IN OUR WINTER CAMPAIGN
Please help keep the independent journalism of Common Dreams strong. Give today.
To donate by check, phone, or other method, see our More Ways to Give page.
Robert Williams, a Black man and Michigan resident, was wrongfully arrested because of a false face recognition match, according to an administrative complaint filed today by the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan. This is the first known case of someone being wrongfully arrested in the United States because of this technology, though there are likely many more cases like Robert's that remain unknown.
Detroit police handcuffed Robert on his front lawn in front of his wife and two terrified girls, ages two and five. The police took him to a detention center about forty minutes away, where he was locked up overnight in a cramped and filthy cell. Robert's fingerprints, DNA sample, and mugshot were put on file. After an officer acknowledged during an interrogation the next afternoon that "the computer must have gotten it wrong," Robert was finally released -- nearly 30 hours after his arrest. Still, the government continues to stonewall Robert's repeated attempts to learn more about what led to his wrongful arrest, in violation of a court order and of its obligations under the Michigan Freedom of Information Act.
Robert is keenly aware that his encounter with the police could have proven deadly for a Black man like him. He recounts the whole ordeal in an op-ed published by the Washington Post and a video published by the ACLU.
"I never thought I'd have to explain to my daughters why daddy got arrested," saysRobert Williams in the op-ed. "How does one explain to two young girls that the computer got it wrong, but the police listened to it anyway?"
While Robert was locked up, his wife Melissa had to explain to his boss why Robert wouldn't show up to work next morning. She also had to explain to their daughters where their dad was and when he would come back. Robert's daughters have since taken to playing games involving arresting people, and have accused Robert of stealing things from them.
Robert was arrested on suspicion of stealing watches from Shinola, a Detroit watch shop. Detroit police sent an image of the suspect captured by the shop's surveillance camera to Michigan State Police, who ran the image through its database of driver's licenses. Face recognition software purchased from DataWorks Plus by Michigan police combed through the driver's license photos and falsely identified Robert Williams as the suspect.
Based off the erroneous match, Detroit police put Robert's driver's license photo in a photo lineup and showed it to the shop's offsite security consultant, who never witnessed the alleged robbery firsthand. The consultant, based only on a review of the blurry surveillance image, identified Robert as the culprit.
"Every step the police take after an identification -- such as plugging Robert's driver's license photo into a poorly executed and rigged photo lineup -- is informed by the false identification and tainted by the belief that they already have the culprit," said Victoria Burton-Harris and Phil Mayor, attorneys representing Robert Williams, in an ACLU blog post published today. "Evidence to the contrary -- like the fact that Robert looks markedly unlike the suspect, or that he was leaving work in a town 40 minutes from Detroit at the time of the robbery -- is likely to be dismissed, devalued, or simply never sought in the first place...When you add a racist and broken technology to a racist and broken criminal legal system, you get racist and broken outcomes. When you add a perfect technology to a broken and racist legal system, you only automate that system's flaws and render it a more efficient tool of oppression."
Numerous studies, including a recent study by the National Institutes of Science and Technology, have found that face recognition technology is flawed and biased, misidentifying Black and Asian people up to 100 times more often than white people. Despite this, an untold number of law enforcement agencies nationwide are using the technology, often in secret and without any democratic oversight.
"The sheer scope of police face recognition use in this country means that others have almost certainly been -- and will continue to be -- misidentified, if not arrested and charged for crimes they didn't commit," said Clare Garvie,senior associate with Georgetown Law's Center on Privacy & Technology in an ACLU blog post.
The ACLU has long been warning that face recognition technology is dangerous when right, and dangerous when wrong.
"Even if this technology does become accurate (at the expense of people like me), I don't want my daughters' faces to be part of some government database," adds Williams in his op-ed. "I don't want cops showing up at their door because they were recorded at a protest the government didn't like. I don't want this technology automating and worsening the racist policies we're protesting."
The ACLU has also been leading nationwide efforts to defend privacy rights and civil liberties against the growing threat of face recognition surveillance, and is calling on Congress to immediately stop the use and funding of the technology.
"Lawmakers need to stop allowing law enforcement to test their latest tools on our communities, where real people suffer real-life consequences," said Neema Singh Guliani, ACLU senior legislative counsel. "It's past time for lawmakers to prevent the continued use of this technology. What happened to the Williams family should never happen again."
Already, multiple localities have banned law enforcement use of face recognition technology as part of ACLU-led campaigns, including San Francisco, Berkeley and Oakland, CA, as well as Cambridge, Springfield, and Somerville, MA. Following years of advocacy by the ACLU and coalition partners, pressure from Congress, and nationwide protests against police brutality, Amazon and Microsoft earlier this month said they will not sell face recognition technology to police for some time. They joined IBM and Google who previously said they would not be selling a general face recognition algorithm to the government. Microsoft and Amazon have yet to clarify their positions on sale of the technology to federal law enforcement agencies like the FBI and the DEA.
The ACLU is also suing the FBI, DEA, ICE, and CBP to learn more about how the agencies are using face recognition and what safeguards, if any, are in place to prevent rights violations and abuses. And the organization has taken Clearview AI to court in Illinois over its privacy-violating face recognition practices.
The op-ed by Robert Williams is here: https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/2020/06/24/i-was-wrongfully-arrested-because-facial-recognition-why-are-police-allowed-use-this-technology/.
The administrative complaint filed today was first reported by the New York Times: https://www.nytimes.com/2020/06/24/technology/facial-recognition-arrest.html.
A blog post on the complaint filed today is here: https://www.aclu.org/news/privacy-technology/wrongfully-arrested-because-face-recognition-cant-tell-black-people-apart.
A blog post with new information on the scope of police use of face recognition is here: https://www.aclu.org/news/privacy-technology/the-untold-number-of-people-implicated-in-crimes-they-didnt-commit-because-of-face-recognition.
A video about the Williams family ordeal is here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Tfgi9A9PfLU&feature=youtu.be.
The administrative complaint filed today is here: https://www.aclu.org/letter/aclu-michigan-complaint-re-use-facial-recognition.
The American Civil Liberties Union was founded in 1920 and is our nation's guardian of liberty. The ACLU works in the courts, legislatures and communities to defend and preserve the individual rights and liberties guaranteed to all people in this country by the Constitution and laws of the United States.(212) 549-2666
"Stop feeding moral panic and pass a real data privacy law to stop Big Tech companies—including TikTok!—from harvesting and abusing our personal data for profit," a new Fight for the Future petition urges lawmakers.
Data privacy and free speech advocates on Tuesday sounded the alarm about "hypocrisy and censorship" as U.S. House Republicans pushed for a bill to effectively ban TikTok, a video-sharing platform created by the Chinese company ByteDance, across the country.
House Committee on Foreign Affairs Chairman Michael McCaul (R-Texas) held a hearing on "combating the generational challenge of CCP aggression," referring to the Chinese Communist Party, after introducing the Deterring America's Technological Adversaries (DATA) Act last week.
Meanwhile, the U.S.-based group Fight for the Future launched a #DontBanTikTok campaign opposing the bill (H.R. 1153).
"If policymakers want to protect Americans from surveillance, they should advocate for strong data privacy laws."
"If it weren't so alarming, it would be hilarious that U.S. policymakers are trying to 'be tough on China' by acting exactly like the Chinese government," said Fight for the Future director Evan Greer. "Banning an entire app used by millions of people, especially young people, LGBTQ folks, and people of color, is classic state-backed internet censorship."
"TikTok uses the exact same surveillance capitalist business model of services like YouTube and Instagram," she stressed. "Yes, it's concerning that the Chinese government could abuse data that TikTok collects. But even if TikTok were banned, they could access much of the same data simply by purchasing it from data brokers, because there are almost no laws in place to prevent that kind of abuse."
According to Greer, "If policymakers want to protect Americans from surveillance, they should advocate for strong data privacy laws that prevent all companies (including TikTok!) from collecting so much sensitive data about us in the first place, rather than engaging in what amounts to xenophobic showboating that does exactly nothing to protect anyone."
\u201cNEW: @fightfortheftr has launched #DontBanTikTok, a campaign calling for US lawmakers to stop their unserious and xenophobic handwringing around TikTok and pass a goddamn data privacy law to actually protect people from corporate & government surveillance https://t.co/JQ7ykDwQKU\u201d— Evan Greer is on Mastodon (@Evan Greer is on Mastodon) 1677617090
Fight for the Future's campaign includes a petition that is open for signature and sends the same message to lawmakers: "I want my elected officials to ACTUALLY protect my sensitive data from China and other governments. Stop feeding moral panic and pass a real data privacy law to stop Big Tech companies—including TikTok!—from harvesting and abusing our personal data for profit."
In addition to sharing the petition and highlighting the inadequacy of U.S. privacy laws, the campaign site notes that the ACLU is also opposing McCaul's bill, and on Sunday sent a letter to him and Rep. Gregory Meeks (D-N.Y.), the panel's ranking member.
"Having only had a few days to review this legislation, we have not included a comprehensive list of all of H.R. 1153's potential problems in this letter," wrote ACLU federal policy director Christopher Anders and senior policy counsel Jenna Leventoff. "However, the immediately apparent First Amendment concerns are more than sufficient to justify a 'no' vote."
"This legislation would not just ban TikTok—an entire platform, used by millions of Americans daily—but would also erode the important free speech protections included within the Berman Amendment," they continued. "Moreover, its vague and overbroad nature implicates due process and sweeps in otherwise protected speech."
The letter explains that 35 years ago, the Berman Amendment "removed the president's authority to regulate or ban the import or export of 'informational materials, including but not limited to, publications, films, posters, phonograph records, photographs... artworks, and news wire feeds' and later electronic media."
In a statement, Leventoff declared that "Congress must not censor entire platforms and strip Americans of their constitutional right to freedom of speech and expression."
"Whether we're discussing the news of the day, livestreaming protests, or even watching cat videos," she said, "we have a right to use TikTok and other platforms to exchange our thoughts, ideas, and opinions with people around the country and around the world."
Notably, Meeks spoke out against the bill during Tuesday's hearing. Reutersreports that the ranking member "strongly opposed the legislation, saying it would 'damage our allegiances across the globe, bring more companies into China's sphere, destroy jobs here in the United States, and undercut core American values of free speech and free enterprise."
One environmental activist urged U.S. President Joe Biden to take action to "usher out the era of climate-destroying cars and trucks."
Although the total number of automobiles sold globally fell slightly last year, worldwide sales of sport utility vehicles rose significantly, with 330 million SUVs now on—and off—the world's roads emitting more planet-heating greenhouse gases than all but five nations, an analysis published Monday revealed.
The International Energy Agency (IEA) reports total car sales fell nearly 0.5% to around 75 million units in 2022. SUV sales, however, were up around 3% "despite supply chain obstacles and rising inflation."
"In 2022, SUVs accounted for around 46% of global car sales, with noticeable growth coming in the United States, India, and Europe," the report says.
\u201c\ud83d\udde3 \u201cA strong increase in sales of electric models was not enough to prevent CO2 emissions from SUVs worldwide reaching almost 1 billion tonnes in 2022\u201d\n\nOur new commentary explores how growing SUV sales are impacting efforts to reduce emissions \ud83d\udc49 https://t.co/pVzKe1PbN6\u201d— International Energy Agency (@International Energy Agency) 1677534301
IEA noted that "an increasing number of SUVs were electric, accounting for around 16% of total SUV sales in 2022, above the average overall market share for EVs. For the first time ever, electric SUVs last year accounted for over half of global electric car sales."
However, the "strong increase in sales of electric models was not enough to prevent carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from SUVs worldwide reaching almost 1 billion tons in 2022," the agency said.
Put another way, if SUVs were a country, it would be the world's sixth-biggest carbon polluter.
\u201cIf SUVs were a country, they would rank as the sixth most polluting in the world.\n\nPurchases of SUVs have soared in recent years globally, rising from 20% of new cars in 2012 to 46% of all cars last year, the IEA reports.\nhttps://t.co/VQJV4oBcc2\u201d— Matthias Schmelzer (@Matthias Schmelzer) 1677608992
"Rapidly increasing the number of electric cars on the road in place of conventional cars is a key part of reaching net-zero emissions by mid-century," the IEA report asserts. "At the same time, SUVs require larger batteries to power them, so a growing electric SUV market would impose additional pressure on battery supply chains and further increase demand for the critical minerals needed to make the batteries."
"Addressing those risks ahead of time is possible through a number of actions: downsizing of the average car size; increasing battery swapping; and investing in innovative battery technologies," the analysis continues. "Those strategies would keep in check the investment requirements for developing the cobalt, copper, lithium, and nickel resources needed to satisfy the increasing uptake of EVs."
Climate and environmental campaigners in the United States urged President Joe Biden to take action to boost EV production.
"Cutting auto pollution by 75% by 2030 is the biggest single step America can take to prevent catastrophic global warming."
"While automakers talk out of both sides of their tailpipes, President Biden can take action to usher out the era of climate-destroying cars and trucks," Dan Becker, director of the Center for Biological Diversity's Safe Climate Transport Campaign, said in a statement.
"The president needs to set standards that dramatically boost EV production and require automakers to slash the pollution caused by new gas-burning vehicles in the meantime," he added. "Cutting auto pollution by 75% by 2030 is the biggest single step America can take to prevent catastrophic global warming."
\u201cToday @GreenLatinos is in the @nytimes with an ad on #ClimateAction. We must move industry to be a part of the solution @POTUS.\u201d— Ean Thomas Tafoya (@Ean Thomas Tafoya) 1677621092
Amanda Pantoja, a sustainable communities program consultant with GreenLatinos, asserted that "our communities need clean air, not more toxic auto pollution."
"Setting the highest clean car standards is essential to achieving environmental justice for low-income communities of color disproportionately impacted by vehicle emissions," Pantoja explained. "President Biden must deliver on his commitment to advance zero-emission transportation and ensure that vulnerable populations have access to clean vehicles in their neighborhoods."
"Ending these increased benefits will cause more food insecurity and poverty. It's unacceptable," said Rep. Pramila Jayapal. "Poverty and hunger are policy choices. It's time we step up and do more."
As of Wednesday, around 30 million people across the United States will have their family's food assistance slashed, despite high prices and expert warnings about a "hunger cliff."
Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits were initially increased at the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic. Although Republicans in 18 states had already ended the emergency allotments (EAs), households in the other 32 states along with Washington, D.C., Guam, and the U.S. Virgin Islands have continued to receive them.
However, the increased SNAP benefits are set to end Wednesday because of the omnibus spending package from December—federal lawmakers traded the temporary pandemic-era boost for a permanent program to feed children in the summer.
"Poverty is a policy choice in this country."
"We're really going to struggle," Deanna Hardy, a mother of two in Marshfield, Wisconsin, toldABC News. "We're going to have to end up going back to cheaper items like noodles and processed stuff because the meat, the dairy, fruits, and veggies. It's expensive."
"I don't think the cuts could have happened at a worse time," added Hardy—whose family relies on a fixed income and will see their benefits drop from $960 to $200 per month. "When the extra payments began, food prices were nowhere near where they are now."
As Tracy Roof, an associate professor of political science at the University of Richmond, recently wrote for The Conversation:
Many advocates for a stronger safety net say that SNAP benefits are too low to meet the needs of low-income people. They are warning of a looming hunger cliff—meaning a sharp increase in the number of people who don't get enough nutritious food to eat—in March 2023, when the extra help ends.
At that point, the lowest-income families will lose $95 in benefits a month. But some SNAP participants, such as many elderly and disabled people who live alone and on fixed incomes and who only qualify for the minimum amount of help, will see their benefits plummet from $281 to $23 a month.
A trio of Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP) experts pointed out earlier this month that "a study estimated that EAs kept 4.2 million people above the poverty line in the last quarter of 2021, reducing poverty by 10%―and child poverty by 14%―in states with EAs at the time. The estimated reduction in poverty rates due to EAs was highest for Black and Latino people."
CBPP president Sharon Parrott warned Axios Tuesday that the cuts will "allow very high levels of poverty to remain in the country."
Noting the outlet's report, Public Citizen President Robert Weissman declared that "a decent society would not let this happen."
\u201cExpanded SNAP benefits end today and will push 32 million Americans off a \u201chunger cliff.\u201d\n \nBut hey! It\u2019s all good because, according to Moody\u2019s Analytics, people not being able to buy food will reduce inflation. \ud83d\ude44https://t.co/nOby2GVNpw\u201d— Patriotic Millionaires (@Patriotic Millionaires) 1677612540
The looming cuts are a reminder that "poverty is a policy choice in this country," Elizabeth Lower-Basch, deputy executive director for the Center for Law and Social Policy, told Axios. "For a while, we decided we were going to make a different policy choice."
Congressional Progressive Caucus Chair Pramila Jayapal(D-Wash.) agreed and demanded action by federal lawmakers.
"Tomorrow, SNAP benefits will drop back to pre-pandemic levels," she tweeted. "That means $171 less each month for 520,000 Washington families struggling to make ends meet. Ending these increased benefits will cause more food insecurity and poverty."
"It's unacceptable," Jayapal added. "Poverty and hunger are policy choices. It's time we step up and do more."