Airport Face Scans

FILE - In this July 12, 2017 file photo, a U.S. Customs and Border Protection facial recognition device is ready to scan another passenger at a United Airlines gate at George Bush Intercontinental Airport, in Houston. Florida’s busiest airport is becoming the first in the nation to require a face scan of passengers on all arriving and departing international flights, including U.S. citizens, according to officials there. The expected announcement Thursday, June 21, 2018, at Orlando International Airport alarms some privacy advocates who say there are no formal rules in place for handling data gleaned from the scans, nor formal guidelines on what should happen if a passenger is wrongly prevented from boarding. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip, File)

The American Civil Liberties Union of Louisiana sued the Louisiana State Police Department on Tuesday over a public records dispute related to facial recognition software used by the department.

The lawsuit stems from a 2019 criminal proceeding in Orleans Parish where an employee of the Louisiana State Analytical and Fusion Exchange, also known as the LSP’s Fusion Center, testified he had worked with facial recognition software created by French software company Idemia to identify suspects for the previous two years, according to the lawsuit.

The revelation that LSP was using facial recognition software had not been previously disclosed.

The ACLU of Louisiana requested documents related to the LSP’s use of the software in September 2019 out of concern that “LSP was using an invasive technology to surveil the public without its knowledge,” according to the lawsuit. The state police denied the request, saying it did not maintain some of the requested records and the rest were exempt from Louisiana public records laws, according to an ACLU news release.

“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,” ACLU of Louisiana Executive Director Alanah Odoms said in a statement.

A state police spokesperson declined to comment Tuesday, citing pending litigation.

The ACLU of Louisiana has previously sought information about the use of facial recognition software by Louisiana police agencies for years.

Records of email requests from the New Orleans Police Department to the Fusion Center asking the center to use facial recognition software to identify suspects were obtained through a public records request and made public by the ACLU of Louisiana in December.

The emails date as far back as 2018 and include a 2018 email from LSP outlining the department’s process for requesting a facial recognition analysis and details on how to use the LSP’s standard request form, something the ACLU of Louisiana says shows there is a “formalized system in place” for the use of such analysis.

The emails “demonstrate that LSP is, despite its denial, in possession of responsive documents and illegally refused to produce them,” the lawsuit reads.

The New Orleans City Council banned the use of facial recognition software by police in December following the release of the emails. Several other U.S. cities imposed similar bans in 2020.

NOPD had long denied the use of such technology prior to a November report by the Lens that the department instead went through “state and federal partners” to run the searches.

The ACLU of Louisiana opposes the use of facial recognition technologies in policing, arguing it is racially biased and unreliable.

There’s evidence showing facial recognition often misidentifies Black people and people of color at a higher rate than White people. The National Institute of Standards and Technology, a federal government agency, released a study in 2019 concluding that most commercial facial recognition software was racially biased, identifying Black and Asian people at 10 to 100 times the rate of misidentification for White people. The study tested 189 pieces of software from 99 different developers.

“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,” Odoms said in a statement. “Its inherent racial bias makes it an unreliable investigatory tool and creates a high risk of wrongful arrests, raising grave civil rights concerns.”

The lawsuit was filed in East Baton Rouge Parish, where state government and the State Police are headquartered.