Local and national civil rights groups call on Detroit City Council to oppose renewal of police facial recognition contract

Posted June 18, 2020, 7:09 PM


Detroit Contact: Tawana Petty, 313-433-9882, tawana@alliedmedia.org
National Contact: Evan Greer, (508) 474-5248, press@fightforthefuture.org

Thousands of people and dozens of prominent civil liberties, privacy, and racial justice organizations are calling on the Detroit City Council to vote against a measure to renew the Detroit Police Department’s controversial contract for invasive, racially biased facial recognition software. 

Local organizations like the Detroit Community Technology Project, Detroit Digital Justice Coalition, ACLU-Michigan, Detroit Justice Center, Green Light Black Futures Campaign, and the James and Grace Lee Boggs Center to Nurture Community Leadership have been leading the fight to oppose the DPD’s controversial use of facial recognition surveillance software for years. They have held town halls, consulted on legislation and ordinances, organized community surveys, hosted community meetings, launched social media campaigns and hosted livestreams, organized demonstrations and educated the public through teach-ins. The issue has been thrust into the spotlight again in recent weeks as massive racial justice protests have swept Detroit, and the nation. 

Dozens of national organizations, including Color of Change, Greenpeace, MoveOn, CAIR, Daily Kos, Mijente, United We Dream, and the Arab-American Anti-Discrimination League have endorsed the BanFacialRecogntion.com campaign led by Fight for the Future. Today, Fight for the Future electronically delivered nearly 2,000 signatures to Detroit City Council, with a note urging them to vote against the renewal and expansion of DPD’s face surveillance contract with DataWorks Plus. The group has also set up a phone number to drive calls to the city council. Detroit residents can call 858-264-0403 to easily connect to each member of the council in succession and make their voice heard. 

More than 75,000 people across the US have taken action calling on elected officials to enact an outright ban on law enforcement use of facial recognition, which experts say is a uniquely dangerous form of surveillance that exacerbates existing forms of discrimination in policing. 

“We are at a historic moment in the world, where there is a global outcry in defense of Black lives. People are waking up all over the world demanding that the system of policing be reimagined. That the resources poured into militarization, mass surveillance and incarceration be reinvested into neighborhoods, families, equitable health systems, better educational systems, affordable water and truly affordable housing infrastructure. We know that now is the time to make it clear that surveillance and safety are opposites. It would be shameful for the Blackest city in America to ignore the call to model what respect for Black lives could look like, by instead doubling down and further investing in this racially unjust technology.” said Tawana Petty (she/her), Director Data Justice Program, Detroit Community Technology Project

“We believe that all people deserve to feel safe and cared for in our communities, and we know safety is established by adequate resources that create self sustaining communities and prioritize the most marginalized. Surveillance and facial recognition technology - and policing in all its forms - compromises the true safety of marginalized communities. It is beautiful to see so many people rising up to say that we keep us safe, that we will not accept the violence of the state, that we deserve to be valued and prioritized - and cities demonstrate their priorities in the ways they spend money. The calls to #DefundPolice & #BlackOutGreenLight are rooted in the demand to be seen as deserving of true safety, to be free from fear and distrust of our neighbors, to demand the resources we need to thrive. We know that police and surveillance cameras do not keep us safe.” PG Watkins (they/them), organizer with the Green Light Black Futures campaign

“As the world continues to reel from the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, Black and brown protesters are literally risking their lives to protest against police violence in the wake of the murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and countless others. In response, the police have escalated their violence toward protesters with tear gases, rubber bullets, and surveillance tools, like facial recognition, to target, track and arrest protesters. The police are not neutral actors and do not maintain public safety. After seeing the abusive and problematic use of facial recognition against protesters, several tech companies have stepped away from the facial recognition business. It’s time for our local representatives all over the country to step up and revoke all contracts that give the police more power and more tools to harm our communities. Defunding the police also means taking away their technology."  said Myaisha Hayes (she/her), Campaign Strategies Director at Media Justice

"While the nation is watching, Detroit’s City Council has the chance to be on the right side of history. There is no good facial recognition software — bias is baked into its coding — and in the hands of the police, it’s a dangerous surveillance tool that heightens the tremendous attacks that Black communities already face.  A vote to renew the facial recognition contract for the Detroit Police Department is a vote against Black Detroiters and all Detroiters who are taking action for justice.” - said Brandi Collins (she/her), Senior Campaign Director at Color Of Change

“The rapid spread of facial-recognition technology has outpaced our ability to keep its many abuses in check. In particular, this dangerous technology allows law enforcement and corporate actors to monitor and identify individuals without their knowledge or consent. We know that police disproportionately surveil people of color, religious minorities and dissident groups in ways that undermine their rights to privacy, free expression and free assembly. We can only imagine how dangerous this spying capability is when used at a protest or religious gathering. The technology is less accurate when used to identify – or rather, so often misidentify – people of color, raising incredibly troubling racial justice issues. No regulations could account sufficiently for the serious threat facial recognition technology poses. ” - Sandy Fulton (she/her), Director of Government Relations at Free Press

“At a time when local elected officials across the country are listening to their communities and taking steps to defund and rein in police departments that have routinely violated people’s basic human rights, it’s unthinkable that the Detroit City Council would not only renew but expand their city’s use of invasive, racist, facial recognition surveillance software,” said Evan Greer (she/her), Deputy Director of Fight for the Future. “The whole world is watching. Detroit police have a massive surveillance apparatus, one of the most extensive in the country. If Detroit City Council votes to renew this contract during this moment in history, they’re showing blatant disregard for the safety and basic rights of Black and brown people, not just in Detroit but around the world.”

“Study after study has shown that face recognition is inaccurate, biased, and prone to misuse,” said Clare Garvie (she/her), senior associate with the Center on Privacy & Technology at Georgetown Law. “Detroit residents have every right to be concerned, and City Council would do well to listen.”

Jake Laperruque (he/him) of the Project on Government Oversight said “Facial recognition is dangerous. It is especially prone to misidentifying people of color, can easily be abused to target protesters, and enables dragnet surveillance. Detroit and other cities across the country should stop pushing this invasive and unchecked surveillance on their communities.” 

 "The use of facial recognition technology is invasive, often unconstitutional, and always discriminatory. We stand with Detroit Community Technologies and residents of Detroit in calling on the City Council to oppose the renewal DPD’s facial recognition software contract,“ added Sue Udry (she/her), executive director, Defending Rights & Dissent.

"The disproportionate surveillance of Black people stems directly from the militarization of law enforcement and feeds directly into overpolicing. Combined with facial recognition’s proven bias against communities of color, now is absolutely the wrong time to extend controversial, privacy-invasive, and faulty surveillance,” said Sean Vitka (he/him), Senior Policy Council at Demand Progress. 

Lauren Sarkesian (she/her), Senior Policy Counsel at New America’s Open Technology Institute, said “Last week, three major tech companies halted their sales of facial recognition technology to police, acknowledging the technology’s racial bias and its disproportionate impact on Black and Brown communities. These moves should serve as a wake-up call to lawmakers across the country, including the Detroit City Council as it considers renewing its contract in the coming weeks. Facial recognition technology is dangerous and unregulated at present, and does not belong in the hands of Detroit police for use in surveilling residents of already over-surveilled communities. Especially now as our nation begins to confront longstanding patterns of racial injustice, the Detroit City Council must oppose the renewal of the Detroit Police Department’s facial recognition contract, and halt law enforcement facial recognition use throughout the city.”