NYPD used facial recognition to track down Black Lives Matter activist

The New York City Police Department used facial recognition software to track down a Black Lives Matter activist accused of assault after allegedly shouting into a police officer’s ear with a bullhorn. The mayor’s office says it will “reassess” standards for using facial recognition after criticism that the case shows the technology being used indiscriminately.

On August 7th, the police department sent dozens of officers, including some in riot gear, to the home of 28-year-old activist Derrick Ingram. A stand-off followed, live-streamed by Ingram on Instagram, during which he repeatedly asked officers to produce a search warrant. They refused to do so. After protestors supporting Ingram flocked to the street, the NYPD stood down and Ingram turned himself into the police the next day.

The NYPD has been criticized for the disproportionate show of force in pursuing Ingram, and now also for its use of facial recognition software to track him down. Video of the August 7th standoff captured by FreedomNewsTV shows officers outside Ingram’s home examining a document titled “Facial Identification Section Informational Lead Report,” which includes what appears to be a photo of Ingram taken from his Instagram.

The NYPD confirmed to Gothamist that it used facial recognition during the investigation. “The NYPD uses facial recognition as a limited investigative tool, comparing a still image from a surveillance video to a pool of lawfully possessed arrest photos,” said a spokesperson. But it’s unclear if the photo of Ingram taken from social media was part of this search. If so it would constitute a breach of the NYPD’s own policies, as it’s neither a still image from a surveillance video nor an arrest photo.

Video from the August 7th stand-off shows police with a facial recognition “lead report.”
Image: FreedomNewsTV

In response to the report, NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio told Gothamist that his office would reexamine the standards for police use of facial recognition. “We have to be very careful and very limited with our use of anything involving facial recognition,” said de Blasio. “Those standards need to be reassessed. It’s something I will do with my team and with the NYPD.”

The NYPD has been using facial recognition software to identify suspects since 2011, with official statistics stating that the department processed 9,850 requests using the software in 2019 leading to 2,510 “possible matches.” However, official figures may be misleading. A BuzzFeed report from February found that the NYPD had run more than 11,000 facial recognition searches using technology from controversial firm Clearview AI, despite denying having any official contract with the company.

Mayor de Blasio said this week that the NYPD is “sparing” in its use of facial recognition, and never uses the technology to “undermine or affect public expression or public protest.” In Ingram’s case, the activist is accused of yelling into an officer’s ear with a bullhorn during a protest in June, which the NYPD says caused “pain and protracted impairment of hearing.”

Manhattan State Senator Brad Hoylman, who has proposed legislation to ban the use of facial recognition by NYPD, said the case was “further proof that allowing [the police] to set their own policy results in no meaningful protections for New Yorkers.”

Ingram himself told Gothamist that activists were being “specifically targeted with this technology because of what we’re protesting and because we’re trying to deconstruct a system that they’re a part of.” He added: “It’s a waste of taxpayer money and dollars that could be reallocated to people struggling throughout this city.”

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