NEW ORLEANS – The American Civil Liberties Union of Louisiana today sued Louisiana State Police (LSP) for the release of public records regarding its use of racist facial recognition technology, after LSP denied requests for the information.
“Face recognition systems have been proven to be racially-biased,” said ACLU of Louisiana Executive Director Alanah Odoms. “This technology is ripe for abuse in the hands of the government and has already resulted in the wrongful arrest and imprisonment of people of color. Its inherent racial bias makes it an unreliable investigatory tool and creates a high risk of wrongful arrests, raising grave civil rights concerns. Police must be accountable to the communities impacted by their harmful practices—our community members have a right to an informed debate before any mass surveillance capable technologies are acquired or utilized. The ACLU of Louisiana demands transparency from Louisiana State Police, beginning with the release of these documents. And our work won’t stop there. We will continue to hold Louisiana State Police accountable and defend Louisianans from racially biased surveillance technologies and invasions of privacy by the government. ”
In 2019, Odoms learned that LSP’s Fusion Center was using the invasive technology without public knowledge. During a criminal proceeding in Orleans Parish Criminal District Court, testimony adduced by a public defender demonstrated that LSP had identified his client by comparing an image to its database using a then-pilot program. During the hearing, an LSP Fusion Center employee testified that he had been working with facial-recognition software for about two years, and the company that created the software program, Idemia, had given a two-day training to LSP.
Odoms became concerned that LSP was using an invasive technology to surveil the public without its knowledge. The ACLU of Louisiana opposes the expansion of government surveillance and seeks an end to racially biased, unreliable technologies that amplify racist policing, including facial recognition.
The ACLU of Louisiana filed a public-records request in September 2019 seeking additional information about LSP’s use of facial-recognition technology to better understand its application and share that information with the public. Requested documents include meeting agendas and minutes, public notice, communications between LSP and elected leaders, training documents, and analyses. Louisiana State Police denied the request, responding that it did not maintain some of the requested records and that the rest were exempt from Louisiana’s Public Records Law.
Last year, following a separate public records request, the ACLU of Louisiana obtained nearly 50 pages of email requests from the New Orleans Police Department to the Louisiana State Police Fusion Center asking LSP to use facial recognition on various photos and video stills. The correspondence surfaced after years of assurances from city officials that facial recognition was not used in New Orleans.