Apple is being sued for $1 billion in damages by an 18-year-old college student who blames the company’s facial recognition software for his false arrest and for wrongly tying him to thefts at Apple stores in several states.
The plaintiff said the incidents adversely affected his education and reputation and caused him stress and hardship. His complaint accuses Apple of negligence, infliction of emotional distress, slander, libel and fraudulent concealment.
The complaint takes issue with Apple’s facial recognition software, Face ID, which replaced Touch ID that required a user’s fingerprint as a way to open an iPhone, open apps within the iPhone that are enabled with Face ID and make payments through Apple Pay.
“Until the present, any examination of Face ID has presupposed that the iPhone user is not being deceptive about his identity. However, when a name is mismatched to a particular face, the security benefits of the Face ID software become a criminal’s weapon,” says the complaint on behalf of Ousmane Bah.
According to the complaint, Apple accepted as identification an interim driver’s permit that Bah had lost and that had Bah’s name, address, date of birth, sex, height and eye color on it but not his or any photo.
Police later said they suspect that the person who committed the crimes that Apple blamed on Bah presented Bah’s interim permit as identification during one of his multiple offenses against Apple. Apple then matched that personal information with a photo of the real Bah. As a result, Apple’s security technology thereafter identified the perpetrator as Bah.
The complaint alleges that Apple relied so heavily on its facial recognition software that it “failed to consider the possibility of human error in its identification procedures, despite the fact that there was a clear discrepancy between the height described on the learner’s permit for Bah, and the suspect’s height.”
Once Apple tied Bah’s name with the wrong face, Bah had no way to correct the error and Apple failed to match the information provided by the stolen interim permit to the true suspect’s identity, according to the complaint.
Video surveillance, claimed as missing by Apple’s security firm, eventually played a role in clearing Bah of charges.
The suit also names a security company, Security Industry Specialists Inc., as a defendant.
According to the complaint, in March 2018, Bah got his interim driver’s permit, which had his name, address, date of birth, sex, height, and eye color. It did not include a photo. The document specifies it is not to be used for identification purposes. Bah lost the interim permit but did not report the loss to police because he knew he would be receiving the actual permit shortly and because the non-photo interim permit indicated it was not to be used for identification.
Bah later received a summons arraignment from Boston municipal court alleging a larceny over $1,200.00 with an alleged date of offense listed as May 31, 2018. The crime took place at an Apple store in Boston’s Back Bay and involved the theft of multiple Apple pencils, which retail for $99.00 each. Bah had never been to Boston before the arraignment took place on June 27, 2018. He also says he was at his senior prom in Manhattan on the date of the alleged offense.
At his arraignment in Boston, a loss prevention associate employed by defendant Security Industry Specialists Inc. said he witnessed a suspect steal Apple pencils on a security video. He told police that he knew Bah because, he claimed, Bah was previously arrested for thefts from another Apple store. When Bah’s attorney asked to see the video, the security witness said it no longer existed.
After returning home to New York from Boston, Bah received notification at his parents’ home accusing him of several other charges. Among these were similar allegations of larceny from one of Apple’s New Jersey store locations. Apple also made new criminal allegations against Bah in Delaware and in New York City.
On November 29, 2018, New York City police arrested Bah at his home at four o’clock in the morning. The arrest warrant was obtained based on the Apple’s allegations pending against Bah for larceny from one of its Manhattan stores. The police warrant included a photo of a suspect that did not resemble Bah, but police nevertheless executed it.
However, police later realized that Bah was not the suspect of the crimes and that he was wrongfully arrested. A detective had viewed surveillance video from the Manhattan store and concluded that the suspect “looked nothing like” Bah.
At that point, the detective explained that Apple’s security technology identifies suspects of theft using facial recognition technology and that he suspected that the person who had committed the crimes must have presented Bah’s interim permit as identification during one of his multiple offenses against Apple which took place over many months and in multiple states.
Based on the information provided by New York police, Bah’s attorney was able to explain the situation to the district attorney in Boston. The DA obtained the surveillance footage of the crime originally giving rise to the charges made against Bah in Boston, the same footage that the loss prevention firm previously said did not exist. The Boston DA dismissed the case against Bah after viewing the surveillance footage and concluding that he had not committed the crimes.
Currently, there is still a case in New Jersey pending against Bah, but all other charges have been dismissed.
The complaint alleges that the identification of Bah and subsequent charges filed against him, as well as the traumatic arrest which took place at his home, were “completely preventable” by Apple. “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,” the complaint says.
Additionally, the plaintiff claims that Apple could have taken action to correct its error after it became aware that its facial recognition technology had repeatedly wrongfully implicated Bah.
The negligence charge accuses Apple of breaching its duty to “carefully and accurately identify perpetrators of crime so as to avoid false accusations against innocent individuals.”
The security firm and Apple should have realized that the height listed on the interim permit did not match the height of the suspect, that the interim permit was not intended for identification purpose, and there was at least some likelihood that the permit did not belong to the suspect because the document did not include a photo, according to the complaint.
The case is Bah v. Apple Inc., 19-cv-03539, U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York (Manhattan).
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