Source: Tech Dirt
An 18-year-old resident of New York City is suing Apple for $1 billion. His lawsuit alleges Apple uses facial recognition technology as part of its stores’ security systems and that this led directly to him being accused of multiple thefts across a handful of states… despite him bearing zero resemblance to the thief caught on tape.
Ousmane Bah’s lawsuit [PDF] alleges Apple failed in its duty of care by attributing all these thefts to him, despite him not being the thief, resulting in numerous harms and injuries.
As a result of this action, Defendant’s facial recognition technology associated the face of the perpetrator of multiple crimes with Mr. Bah’s name and address. This led to Mr. Bah being charged with multiple crimes of larceny across a number of states.
Mr. Bah has been undoubtedly harmed by Defendant’s wrongful actions. He has been forced to travel to multiple states, including Massachusetts, New Jersey, and Delaware. He has also been subject to a shocking and traumatic arrest made by the NYPD at his home at four o’clock in the morning.
Mr. Bah’s education has also been negatively affected due to Defendant’s actions. He has been forced to miss multiple days of school in order to travel in response to charges wrongfully made against him. Additionally, on the day that he was arrested in New York, he was supposed to take a midterm exam. His grade was negatively affected.
But while the lawsuit leans into the facial recognition theory, Apple has stated it does not use this tech in its store security systems — ones run by Security Industry Specialists, Inc., which is the other defendant named in Bah’s lawsuit.
While facial recognition tech is definitely in Apple’s wheelhouse, to date it’s only used as a biometric security feature. Phone owners can unlock their phones using their faces — something that’s definitely handy, if not of much help when Constitutional rights are at stake.
Bah’s lawsuit leans into this theory, peppering it with links to Face ID articles and footnotes expressing concern about facial recognition tech’s notorious unreliability. But Bah’s lawsuit narrative seems to undercut his claims about facial recognition tech and the damage done.
There’s a far more reasonable explanation for what happened here, and it’s all in the narrative and allegations. This seems to be an old school case of mistaken identity, rather than unproven tech fingering the wrong suspect.
Bah had recently applied for a New York driver’s license. He had a photoless paper permit to tide him over until his actual ID was mailed to him. He lost this permit, which then apparently made its way into the thief’s hands and, ultimately, into the hands of Apple’s security people.
This information was delivered to him by an NYPD detective’s educated guesses about the source of theft claims against Bah.
Detective Reinhold of the NYPD soon realized that Mr. Bah was wrongfully arrested and that he was not the suspect of the crimes perpetrated against Defendant. Detective Reinhold stated that he had viewed the surveillance video from the Manhattan store and concluded that the suspect “looked nothing like” Mr. Bah.
At that point, Detective Reinhold also explained that Defendant’s security technology identifies suspects of theft using facial recognition technology. Further, he suspected that the person who had committed the crimes must have presented Mr. Bah’s interim permit as identification during one of his multiple offenses against Defendant which took place over many months and in multiple states.
Detective Reinhold’s speculation about facial recognition tech may be faulty, but the fact that the suspect presented a photoless ID identifying himself as Ousmane Bah likely explains why Apple reported the faux Bah to the police. When the suspect stole things from other stores, security personnel saw it was the same person they only knew as Bah from the ID the suspect had presented to them.
Since Apple didn’t have a photo to cross-reference with its camera footage, the Bah seen in the recordings was the only Bah it knew, even if it wasn’t actually Ousmane Bah, upstanding citizen and recent high school graduate. Fortunately for the real Bah, charges have been dropped in all but one case. New Jersey is the sole holdout but those charges will likely follow the rest into the prosecutor’s trash can.
Unfortunately for Bah, bogus charges result in real hardships, real reputational damage, and one very real 4 a.m. arrest. But is that $1 billion-worth of damages? It’s highly unlikely Bah will walk away with anything approaching this amount. In fact, Apple’s good faith efforts to catch a thief known only as “Ousmane Bah” don’t really show the company acting negligently. It was working with the information it had. The information may have been bad, but Apple didn’t have any way of knowing that when it turned over information to law enforcement.
Simply saying something does not make it so — which is definitely going to get pointed out by a judge when they reach this part of Bah’s arguments:
The identification of Mr. Bah and subsequent charges filed against him, as well as the traumatic arrest which took place at his home, were completely preventable by Defendant. All of these events were caused by Defendant’s negligent acceptance of an interim permit, which did not contain a photo, did not properly describe the suspect presenting it, and clearly stated that it could not be used for identification purposes, as a valid form of identification.
Additionally, had Defendant taken action to correct their error after it had become aware that its facial recognition technology had continuously wrongfully implicated Mr. Bah, further injury could easily have been avoided.
It’s tough to “easily avoid” something Apple wasn’t aware of until after Bah’s arrest by the NYPD. Only after this arrest occurred did information begin to circulate that Bah wasn’t the thief in the security videos — information that first made its way to the Boston PD, not to Apple’s security team.
Bah claims Apple kept “prosecuting” these charges even after it might have been aware it had misidentified the suspect. But Apple doesn’t prosecute charges. Prosecutors do. There’s nothing on the record at this point indicating Apple security was approached by law enforcement with information showing the wrong person had been named as a suspect but chose to continue pressing charges against Bah.
In the end, this appears to be a very unfortunate situation in which everyone did what they could but still ended up harming a teen with a clean criminal record. Apple worked with the information it had, aided in part by Bah never reporting his interim ID card going missing. The officers who did handle Bah’s cases discovered he was the wrong person, passed that information on to others, and had prosecutors drop the charges. Facial recognition tech was dragged into this lawsuit via speculation from an NYPD detective, but Bah’s narrative is just as speculative, accusing Apple of using faulty tech when it most likely used tech — CCTV — everyone’s been using for years.