Facial Recognition Helps New Jersey Cops Jail The Wrong Man For Ten Days [Update]

from the bake-him-away,-toys dept

Update: The original report from NJ.com and the man’s lawyer said that Clearview was involved, however the NY Times has now reported that it was not actually Clearview, but other facial recognition technology. The post has been updated accordingly.

Given facial recognition tech’s predilection for false positives, the only thing surprising about its link to false arrests is how long it took. After years of live trial runs all over the world, tech used by the Detroit Police Department managed to contribute to two bogus arrests in a matter of months.

Despite this, the PD defended its use of the tech, even while admitting it was wrong 96% of the time. The PD said safeguards were in place to prevent false arrests — including forbidding officers from using facial recognition search results as the sole probable cause for arrest warrants. Nonetheless, the false arrests happened. And, in both cases, it appears the safeguards were ignored.

Now, there’s a third victim of facial recognition tech. A New Jersey man was falsely arrested for theft he didn’t commit, thanks to mistaken facial recognition.

[W]hen police last year filed numerous charges against [NiJeer] Parks stemming from a shoplifting incident at a Woodbridge hotel in which the suspect hit a police car before fleeing the scene, the ex-convict who had worked eagerly to repair his life, tried just as hard to clear his name.

“I had no idea what this was about. I’d never been to Woodbridge before, didn’t even know for sure where it was,” Parks told NJ Advance Media last week.

On top of that, Parks didn’t even own a car, much less drive one. He had to ask his cousin to drive him to the Woodbridge Police state after learning there was a warrant for his arrest. After that, he spent 10 days in jail before being freed — a process that ended up costing him his savings and a year of his life just to clear his name.

So, how did the Woodbridge PD decide Parks was the suspect they were seeking? Investigators utilized facial recognition to “identify” the suspect in a January 2019 shoplifting of candy and snacks from a local hotel. (Of course, when cops argue they should be allowed to buy and use faulty surveillance tech, they always claim they’ll only use it to track dangerous criminals, find kidnapping victims, and prevent child sexual abuse. In reality, tech gets used for things like this.)

Investigators fed photos of the suspect to the facial recognition database — including the fake drivers license handed to cops by the suspect when officers confronted him at the scene. (The suspect escaped after a short car chase.) In an assertion no one should willingly associate with facial recognition, investigators called up the Woodbridge police to tell the PD they had a “high profile match.” The “match” decided Parks was the suspect and things got much worse from there.

Parks voluntarily went to the station to “clear his name.” Instead, he was handcuffed and interrogated for hours. Due to his prior convictions and the severity of the alleged crime (the suspect allegedly almost hit an officer while fleeing the scene), prosecutors “offered” six years in jail to Parks with the threat of a 20-year sentence if he took the case to trial.

Fortunately, the judge handling the case refused to consider the questionable facial recognition search results as evidence Parks had committed these crimes. Prosecutors dropped the case shortly after that, but Parks still spent ten days in jail, along with his life savings.

Now, Parks is suing police and prosecutors for attempting to ruin his life using nothing but sketchy technology that has since been banned for use by New Jersey law enforcement agencies. Hopefully, he’ll be able to recover some of what he lost. And it adds to the body of evidence showing facial recognition shouldn’t be trusted.

While the original reporting said that the facial recognition technology used by the police in this case came from Clearview, the NY Times has since said it appears to be existing government databases instead:

Mr. Parks?s mistaken arrest was first reported by NJ Advance Media, which said the facial recognition app Clearview AI had been used in the case, based on a claim in Mr. Parks?s lawsuit. His lawyer, Daniel Sexton, said he had inferred that Clearview AI was used, given media reports about facial recognition in New Jersey, but now believes he was mistaken.


According to the police report, the match in this case was to a license photo, which would reside in a government database, to which Clearview AI does not have access. The law enforcement involved in making the match ? the New York State Intelligence Center, New Jersey?s Regional Operations Intelligence Center and two state investigators ? did not respond to inquiries about which facial recognition system was used.

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Companies: clearview, clearview ai

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Comments on “Facial Recognition Helps New Jersey Cops Jail The Wrong Man For Ten Days [Update]”

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PaulT (profile) says:

It’s like a collection of the worst of American policing, except nobody died. Police take the word of someone (or in the case something) they trust instead of the facts in front of them. They treat the innocent as though they are guilty (yes, he had prior convictions, but that’s not relevant to the direct situation here). They try to railroad him into a confession for a "reduced sentence", hoping that it will work because the cost of a decent defence is too high for most people. Then, he only gets a view of justice because he can afford to spend his savings on it.

Sadly, the error rate of facial recognition is not the real problem here…

"Investigators fed photos of the suspect to Clearview’s unproven AI — including the fake drivers license handed to cops by the suspect when officers confronted him at the scene"

Especially since the evidence they gave to the system was apparently fake in the first place!

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

Computers don’t make mistakes on their own. One of the oldest adages in computing is GIGO – garbage in, garbage out. If a mistake is made is designing or coding a system, you will never get good results. If the program is near perfect, but the data supplied is faulty, you will never get good results. All of these scenarios are caused by human, not computer, error.

If these systems are to be provided to people to use in the field, this is the first thing that needs to be taught – do not use the computer to replace other evidence, as it might be wrong. The situation above happened because the cops opted to ignore all other evidence and just went "well, the computer says this is our guy".

That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: Keystone Kops

If by that you mean ‘fired and blacklisted from ever working a taxpayer funded job again’ then yes, they should definitely face ‘disciplinary action’.

Someone willing to condemn and jail a person for ten days, in addition to trying to coerce them into accepting ‘only’ six years of prison with the threat of twenty years if he has the audacity to try to defend himself in court has absolutely no business holding a job with any sort of power or authority, because they very clearly cannot wield it responsibly.

That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 'Turnabout is fair play'

If, as seems to be the case, it’s the only way to get them to stop using the tech I see no problem in doing so. If it’s good enough to use against the public then it should be good enough to be used against them, and if they don’t like it then the solution is simple: stop using it against the public.

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Don't Talk

"There’s no such thing as "talking to police to clear your name" when there’s already an arrest warrant."

Well, there damn well should be. The first thing on the table should be verifying the evidence that the warrant was based on, and then the person cleared when it becomes apparent that the evidence was wrong. Especially since the only piece of evidence appears to have been a computer suggestion based on a fake driving licence.

"Hire a lawyer immediately if this type of thing happens."

Which is why poor black men get less justice than rich white folk in the USA – one group can afford to do this.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Wondering...

… they just said the photos are similar.

Looking at the Vermont decision from last September, on p.31:

6. Accuracy of Matching Technology

According to the State’s allegations, Clearview has claimed (1) an accuracy rate of 98.6% to 99.6% for its photograph matching technology . . . These allegations state a claim for deceptive statements regarding the accuracy of Clearview’s matching technology. Clearview provides an affidavit asserting that it has tested its technology’s accuracy using the Megaface benchmark test. That may be so, but the court cannot consider an affidavit on a motion to dismiss.

(Emphasis added; citation to the record omitted.)

According to Vermont, Clearview doesn’t just say the photos are “similar”.

Based on Vermont’s allegations, Clearview states as a testable, scientific fact that the photos match.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Wondering...

Can he sue Clearview for false accusations?

Sure. This is America. Sue anybody for for anything, anytime. Better question: Can a potential claim survive a motion to dismiss?

Obviously, that depends on what the plaintiff claims.

Suppose he claims that when Clearview told the investigating agency there was "high profile match", that Clearview in fact knew that their software was so buggy that it was just selecting photos of black people at random. That’d be pretty reckless, wouldn’t it?

Is "high profile match" a statement of fact, capable of being proven true or false?

This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
That One Guy (profile) says:

Saved by a single person

Probably the most horrifying thing about this whole debacle is the it seems the only thing that saved the man is judge not willing to go along with it. The police were happy to see him sitting in a cell, the prosecutor really wanted a ‘win’ on their record and were pushing hard to get one with a threat of twenty years if the accused tried to defend themselves, and fighting back emptied the man’s savings such that they would have had no choice but to agree had it gone on but for the judge.

Every last one of the people involved other than the judge needs to be fired and blacklisted for life from ever working their jobs again, because if they’re willing to do this once odds are good their either have and/or will do it in the future, and the next person might not be as lucky.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Saved by a single person

Every last one of the people involved other than the judge needs to be fired…

Btw, from the NJ.com article

In addition to Woodbridge police officers, Parks is suing the police director, the township’s mayor, the Middlesex County Prosecutor’s Office and the county jail.

So, we are all kinda short-changed here without the actual text of the complaint to read.

But wtf did the township’s mayor actually do?

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Saved by a single person

It bring to mind the miscarriages of justice in the UK, where following some significant IRA pub bombings and the resultant public outcry for arrests, the police basically just rounded up any Irish people in the area and sent them to prison for decades. Sad to see that decades later, such things are still very possible, and it makes you wonder how many cases this has happened in where the man did not manage to get such a lucky break.

This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
Anonymous Coward says:

UPDATE: Unclear Clearview Involvement

Googling for more on the story just now results in new info.

According to the NYT, the attorney for the plaintiff, that is, Nijeer Parks’ attorney Daniel Sexton, now believes he was mistaken about Clearview’s involvement in the events precipitating the lawsuit.

Another Arrest, and Jail Time, Due to a Bad Facial Recognition Match”, by Kashmir Hill, New York Times, Dec. 29, 2020 (updated 3:33 p.m.)

Mr. Parks’s mistaken arrest was first reported by NJ Advance Media, which said the facial recognition app Clearview AI had been used in the case, based on a claim in Mr. Parks’s lawsuit. His lawyer, Daniel Sexton, said he had inferred that Clearview AI was used, given media reports about facial recognition in New Jersey, but now believes he was mistaken.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: UPDATE: Unclear Clearview Involvement

That doesn’t significantly change the story, though.

It changes some of the preliminary analysis materially.

Vermont’s allegations are specific to Clearview. Vermont alleges specific wrongful acts by Clearview that make an incident of this nature involving Clearview’s facial recognition forseeable.

Generic facial recognition does not implicate those specific wrongful acts alleged by Vermont in the Clearview case. Generic facial recognition may involve other wrongs of a similar nature, but that’s just not the same as saying, “Here’s a very specific provable bad thing that a specific someone did that inevitably caused this incident.”

Anonymous Coward says:

Curiouser and curiouser

According to the NYT, in the excerpt quoted in Cushing’s update above—

The law enforcement involved in making the match — the New York State Intelligence Center, New Jersey’s Regional Operations Intelligence Center and two state investigators — did not respond to inquiries…

However, Asa Fitch’s article this evening in the WSJ, “Facial-Recognition Tools in Spotlight in New Jersey False-Arrest Case” (updated 7:03 pm ET), reports—

New York state police officials, whom the Woodbridge police sent photographs for facial-recognition comparison, said their records showed they didn’t provide any leads in the case. The New Jersey state police also said its information-sharing and intelligence unit didn’t complete a facial recognition identification.

Flipping back to the NYT story, it apparently relies on “the police report” for its assertion that specific NY and NJ law enforcement agencies were “involved in making the match”. But that is just not consistent with the WSJ report of denials by NY and NJ state agencies.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Curiouser and curiouser

Ryan Mac (@RMac18) has a published a partial copy of the police report, which is marked “OFFICER REPORT: 19010123 – 3 / LYSZYK A (519)” and dated “01/30/2019 18:56:05”.


Det. S. Tapia advised me that he sent out the picture of the suspect to the Regional Operations Intelligence Center (ROIC) and the New York State Intelligence Center (NYSIC) for facial recognition. On Jan. 27, he received notification from Investigator Seamus Lyons (Rockland County Sheriff’s Department Intelligence Center) and Sgt. Dey (Palisades Interstate Parkway Police) that they had a high profile comparison to the picture on the fraudulent Tennesseee driver’s license. The suspect was identified as Nijeer Parks. . . .

JAACK says:

False Arrest Prevention From Facial Recognition Apps

How can we the People, prevent this miscarriage of justice from happening to us? Anyone of us, can be caught in this nightmare and wind up spending thousand$ clearing ourselves because police bought defective software AND KNEW it was bad!!!. We must get our lawmakers to prevent police from becoming law breakers themselves. Even though this software may be tossed as evidence in court, the entire power of a state is against a defendant with the state’s UNLIMIITED RESOURCES. How many people have become prisoners because of this Terribly FLAWED software? And have another 10 days of a life stolen by the state, no wonder why people don’t trust police and "law" enforcement! The innocent are being arrested because cops reply on defective software. I got a ticket in the mail because Bay Bridge toll booth license plate reader read the plate number incorrectly.

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