Just this week we wrote about a wave of recent controversy over the city’s Project Green Light surveillance program. Launched by the city in 2016, the program partners with businesses who pay to have a high-definition camera installed outside their building that sends real-time video footage to police monitoring sites.
In March this year, Mayor Mike Duggan announced a $9 million expansion of the program where 500 cameras would be installed at intersections across the city.
What he didn’t mention was that the stills from those cameras, much like those installed outside businesses, can be run through facial recognition software. Reports surfaced in May that the Detroit Police Department has been using this software since July 2017 without approval from the Detroit Board of Police Commissioners.
Local columnists, concerned activists, and even the New York Times have weighted in on the problems with the technology, from its potential use in non-criminal cases to its well-known racial bias.
Because it’s an emerging technology currently unregulated at the federal level, cities have been left to figure out how and when to use it. In May this year, San Francisco became the first major city to ban it.
In the last few days, a number of local city and state officials have acted in response to the criticism.
Detroit Chief of Police James Craig tried to reassure the public that the software would only be used in cases of a terrorist threat or identifiable criminal activity.
Duggan later echoed those comments in a press conference. “I want to make it clear: There will be no facial recognition software used with live-stream video by the Detroit Police Department. That’s not what we’re doing.”
Instead, he said, the cameras at intersections would be used for traffic management and footage to check in case a crime is committed.
Meanwhile, State Rep. Isaac Robinson introduced a bill in the Michigan House of Representatives that would put a five-year moratorium on facial recognition technology. If passed, Michigan would be the first state to ban it.
“There needs to be a discussion on where the limits are and how the technology is used,” Robinson told the Metro Times. “We need to discuss civil liberties and make sure local governments aren’t overreaching.”
The Detroit Board of Police Commissioners has postponed voting on whether or not to approve the technology while Chief Craig tweaks the rules on its use.
The latest meeting of the board on Thursday, July 11, got contentious fast. Commissioner Willie Burton began the meeting by asking questions about what new Board Chair Lisa Carter would do differently. The Detroit News described the unusual scene that followed.
“You are out of order,” Carter told Burton multiple times. When Burton continued talking, she asked officers to remove him from the room. Several officers surrounded Burton and placed him in handcuffs.
Angry audience members rushed toward the front of the room, and police officers formed a cordon around Burton as cops led him from the room amid shouts of “democracy!” and expletives.
It took about 20 minutes for things to calm down, and the board continued normal business, including reading resolutions aloud, and an update from the 10th Precinct.
The board once again postponed a vote on the use of facial recognition software at Project Green Light locations.