A New York teenager has filed a $1 billion lawsuit against Apple that claims that the Cupertino’s face recognition system led to his false arrest. 18-year-old Ousmane Bah was arrested by the NYPD on November 29 in relation to a series of Apple Store thefts in Boston, New Jersey, Delaware and Manhattan. The trouble is, Ousmane couldn’t have been the perpetrator, and instead was a victim of a technological mix-up.
It looks like the real criminal had a stolen ID with Bah’s name, address and other personal details, and used this to pass himself off as the teenager when busted for stealing $1,200 worth of merchandise from an Apple store in Boston on May 31, 2018. What the ID was missing, however, was a photo, and according to the lawsuit, this resulted in Apple’s face recognition system associating the real thief’s face with Bah’s personal information, and thus blaming Bah for subsequent heists in Apple stores in New Jersey, Delaware and Manhattan.
An examination of Apple’s surveillance footage after the arrest determined that Bah and the thief looked nothing alike, and since Bah was attending his senior prom in Manhattan when the Boston theft occurred, he couldn’t have been the original culprit. Charges against Bah have been dropped in every state except New Jersey, where the case is still pending.
It’s still not clear whether the lawsuit will hold up in court and get the $1 billion compensation it asks for, but the case makes some good points about biometric technology in relation to law enforcement, arguing that Apple’s “use of facial recognition software in its stores to track individuals suspected of theft is the type of Orwellian surveillance that consumers fear, particularly as it can be assumed that the majority of consumers are not aware that their faces are secretly being analyzed.“
Given that an actual pair of human eyes looking at surveillance footage quickly exonerated Bah only after the arrest, it’s a good reason not to over-rely on software in crime-fighting.