Latest False Arrest Involving Facial Recognition in US Sure to Fuel Backlash

By Chris Burt

Another arrest in the United States that relied on facial recognition has resulted in a horror story of misidentification and a lawsuit. The mistaken identification appears to have been made first by retail security professionals, rather than police, The Guardian reports.

A robbery at a Sunglass Hut in Houston, Texas was robbed at gunpoint by two men. In the aftermath of the robbery, an employee of Sunglass Hut parent company EssilorLuxottica contacted Macy’s, which is a retail partner of the company, as part of its investigation, according to the lawsuit filed by Harvey Eugene Murphy Jr. Footage from security cameras that the lawsuit claims are low-quality was fed into a facial recognition system, which returned Murphy as a match, and also linked him to two other robberies.

An EssilorLuxottica employee who The Washington Post refers to as the company’s head of loss prevention contacted Houston police to inform them that the perpetrator had been identified.

Murphy was in Sacramento, California the day the robbery occurred. But over a year and a half later, in October of 2023, he returned to Texas to renew his driver’s license. While at the DMV, he was arrested. He spent 10 days in the local county jail, and a few more at Harris County jail, before his alibi was confirmed and he was released. Before that, he says he was beaten and gang-raped by three other inmates. The 61-year-old also says the men threatened to kill him.

Murphy is suing Sunglass Hut, EssilorLuxottica, Macy’s and three allegedly involved individuals for $10 million.

Attorney Daniel Dutko took Murphy’s case, and found that the camera footage had been shared with Macy’s by Sunglass Hut, after which his client was identified. Dutko says the use of facial recognition is the only explanation for this sequence of events.

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The arrest based on facial recognition misidentification follows half a dozen others in the U.S., which have already drawn congressional scrutiny. Murphy is white, but the misidentified individual in each of the other cases is Black.

The role of police in Murphy’s case, and the extent to which they investigated to confirm the findings of the retailer, is unclear.

Macy’s is known to have licensed facial recognition from Clearview AI, at least on a trial basis, as a loss prevention tool. But the retailer was sued over the deployment of Clearview in 2020.

Clearview agreed not to license its technology to private companies or individuals as part of a settlement with the ACLU in May of 2022, having established its core business in the law enforcement biometrics market. The robbery Murphy was arrested for occurred in January, 2022.

Source: Biometric Update

Chris Burt is managing editor and industry analyst at Biometric Update. He has also written nonfiction about information technology, dramatic arts, sports culture, and fantasy basketball, as well as fiction about a doomed astronaut. He lives in Toronto. You can follow him on Twitter @AFakeChrisBurt.

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