Detroit Doubles Down on Stealth ID

Written by Jason Simpkins
Posted October 2, 2020

For almost two years now I've been making the case for facial recognition, or "Stealth ID" technology.

This is software that can be used in cameras, or even digital advertisements, to identify known criminals, or in some cases in-progress crimes.

More than that, it's now being used to scan crowds for potential COVID-19 carriers and help alert those who may have come in contact with them. 

And it's also been deployed at borders and major travel hubs like airports to secure and streamline processes like passport verification and boarding.

No question, this technology is a versatile and hugely helpful tool.

However, the technology is still relatively new, and not without its flaws. 

For instance, the effectiveness of facial recognition technology varies depending on race. That is, a federal study conducted in 2019 found that some forms of the technology can falsely identify Black and Asian faces 10 to 100 times more than Caucasian faces. 

In one high-profile case, a black man named Robert Williams said he was mistakenly tagged by facial recognition as a suspected shoplifter in Detroit in 2018. 

That's problematic to be sure. 

But it didn't stop the Detroit city council from voting (6-3) to extend its contract with law enforcement technology company DataWorks Plus through September 2022.

The city first signed a $1 million deal with the Florida-based facial recognition firm in 2017, and the Detroit Police now own the technology. And on Tuesday, amid a flurry of criticism from opponents, it approved $220,000 more to ensure it's updated and maintained through September 2022. 

And that's because, despite its flaws, facial recognition technology has proven to be helpful to law enforcement and a net positive for the public at large.

Indeed, Detroit police have a strict policy that only allows the use of facial recognition technology to investigate the most egregious violent crimes and home invasions. 

The software is simply a tool used to speed up investigations by comparing suspects with a digital book of mug shots. Once a potential hit is identified, it's then up to detectives to investigate further.

With that in mind, a December review of the industry’s leading facial recognition algorithms by the National Institute of Standards and Technology found they were more than 99% accurate when matching high-quality headshots to a database of other frontal poses.

So it's far more accurate in this capacity.

Furthermore, the technology is no longer being used to investigate minor crimes like shoplifting, or to scan faces in real-time if there's a terror threat. And other new revisions have laid out punishment for any officers who abuse the system.

Those trade-offs were clearly worth it to police leaders who loudly praise the system.

"The efficiency that we gain from using facial recognition is tremendous," Detroit Deputy Chief Marlon Wilson told the council. "A lot of these cases would just be a whodunit."

Said Detroit Board of Police Commissioners Chairman Willie Bell: "This is a 21st century tool and we utilize it appropriately. It’s just one tool in the toolbox.” 

And Detroit Councilman Roy McCalister Jr. applauded its application in defense of the seniors and young children who are most vulnerable to violent crime.

"People who are just living their daily lives and who are attacked, we want to make sure their constitutional rights and their privileges are just as much protected as well," he said. 

Given that, I'm glad Detroit is pushing through with the technology. And in fact, I wish more cities would do the same because there may be flaws but there are also very clear benefits to the public good.

And right now, I'd say, police need more tools to fight crime without pepper spray, tear gas, tasers, guns, and MRAPs.

No question, facial recognition technology needs to be refined and improved. 

But what technology doesn't?

If a technology simply peaked and reached some kind of state of perfection, you'd never receive another software update on your phone or your computer ever again. 

All technology is a work in progress. There are always bugs to fix and improvements to make. 

Facial recognition is no different. 

But banning the technology won't make it better. There has to be a proving ground — an arena for experimentation and learning.

As it evolves, more cities will come to appreciate the benefits, and the concerns should be diminished. 

That's why I've honed in on a company that's at the cutting edge of this trend. 

Its Stealth ID technology is already being deployed in cities and airports, helping police catch criminals, identifying potential terrorists, and even screening for COVID symptoms. 

It's still a tiny company, but poised for massive gains once facial recognition technology goes mainstream. 

Find out more about it here, if you're interested.

Fight on,

Jason Simpkins Signature

Jason Simpkins

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Jason Simpkins is Assistant Managing Editor of the Outsider Club and Investment Director of The Wealth Warrior, a financial advisory focused on security companies and defense contractors. For more on Jason, check out his editor's page. 

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