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Detroit's Project Green Light: Battle Line Over Facial Recognition


In early 2016, Beydoun, owner of a Marathon gas station on the city's west side, enthusiastically paid $6,000 to install cameras around his station and connect them with the crime-fighting effort, called Project Green Light. Since then, he said, crime at his gas station has fallen and revenue has climbed.

"We don't have the trouble that we used to have," he said. "There's an element that used to come to the station to cause problems that no longer shows up."

But now, as those Project Green Light cameras have expanded to 578 locations across the city, Beydoun is among the Detroiters grappling with the news that police can zero in on anyone who is filmed — including customers who are simply pumping gas — and collect personal information about them.

Detroit police officials say they're only using facial recognition technology to identify suspects in violent crimes — not to spy on ordinary citizens. But, in a city that is about 80 percent black, with a sizable population of Middle Eastern, Asian and Latin American immigrants, critics have blasted the police for using technology that has been shown to be more likely to misidentify people with dark skin, without fully explaining it to the public.

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