Opponents of facial recognition technology in Detroit are not giving up without a fight

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  • Steve Neavling
  • DPD Chief James Craig inside the city’s Real Time Crime Center at police headquarters.

Opponents of Detroit’s facial recognition system, which has misidentified suspects and led to their false imprisonment, plan to make some noise ahead of the city council’s scheduled vote to extend a contract on the technology’s software on Tuesday.

The protest group Detroit Will Breathe began an online petition calling for the city to stop using the technology, which opponents say is unreliable, racially biased, and constitutionally dubious. By Monday morning, the petition was close to reaching its goal of 1,600 supporters.

Before the 10 a.m. council meeting, protesters are also planning a car caravan protest to target the home of Councilman Andre Spivey, who expressed support for the technology last week and said opponents have “read too much sci-fi.” Protesters are meeting up at 9:30 a.m. at 17455 E. Warren.

Opponents of facial recognition also are urging residents to comment during the council’s call-in period at the beginning of Tuesday’s meeting.

The council plans to vote on approving a three-year software contract with South Carolina-based DataWorks Plus, which was set to expire in July. DataWorks agreed to extend its service contract through Sept. 30. But even if the council rejects a new contract, city officials can continue using the technology. The contract, they say, refers to technical support, maintenance, upgrades, and licensing — not the use of the software, which the city already owns.

If the council rejects the contract, the city’s Department of Innovation and Technology could take over the service that was provided by DataWorks, the city previously told Metro Times.

The technology has led to the false arrests of at least two Black men who were misidentified by the technology.

This summer, Boston became the latest city to bar police from using facial recognition technology, joining San Francisco, Oakland, Cambridge, Mass., and Somerville, Mass.

Detroit has one of the most pervasive facial recognition systems in the country. It’s used on a quickly expanding surveillance network of high-definition cameras under Mayor Mike Duggan’s Project Green Light, a crime-fighting initiative that began in 2016 at gas stations and fast-food restaurants. Since then, the city has installed more than 500 surveillance cameras at parks, schools, low-income housing complexes, immigration centers, gas stations, churches, abortion clinics, hotels, health centers, apartments, and addiction treatment centers. Now, the city is installing high-definition cameras at roughly 500 intersections at a time when other cities are scaling back because of privacy concerns.

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