Miami Police Used Facial Recognition Technology in Protester's Arrest

NBC 6 Investigators found the program Clearview AI was used to identify a woman accused of throwing rocks at Miami Police officers during a protest on May 30.

Police body cameras and tower camera video show some of what happened on May 30 as protesters squared off with Miami officers forming a line outside of their Downtown headquarters.

The videos, exclusively obtained by NBC 6 Investigators, captured heated moments as objects were thrown at officers and they popped tear gas to retake control of patrol cars.

Police say Oriana Albornoz, 25, threw two rocks at an officer hitting him once and injuring his leg. The department provided a video that shows her throwing something at officers standing across the street but it is difficult to discern what it is.

NBC 6 Investigators found a facial recognition program was used to identify a woman accused of throwing rocks at Miami Police officers during a protest on May 30. NBC 6's Phil Prazan reports.

The incident report also states the officer’s body camera captured the moment, but the department didn’t provide that video to NBC 6. 

A month later, Albornoz was arrested and charged with battery on a police officer. She has pleaded not guilty.

The NBC 6 Investigators found police used the facial recognition program Clearview AI to find her.

A recent NBC 6 investigation found police departments across South Florida, including Miami, are using the technology, which identifies people through publicly available photos including social media sites like Facebook, LinkedIn and Instagram.

Albornoz’s attorney Mike Gottlieb did not know police used the technology to identify his client and questioned how it was used.

“It looks like they’ve just done a regular photographic line up and had it not been for the vigilance of your news agency, I would not have known this,” Gottlieb said. 

Police make no mention of the technology in the arrest report - only writing Albornoz was “identified through investigative means.”

“We don’t know where they got the image," Gottlieb said. "So how or where they got her image from begs other privacy rights. Did they dig through her social media? How did they get access to her social media? he asked.”

According to the Miami Police’s policy, facial recognition technology shall not be used to conduct surveillance of people exercising “constitutionally protected activities” like protesting. 

 “This means that if someone is peacefully protesting and not committing a crime, we cannot use it against them,” Miami Police Assistant Chief Armando Aguilar told NBC 6 in an earlier interview.

But Aguilar says that changes if a crime is committed, adding throwing rocks at officers is a crime.

“We have used the technology to identify violent protesters who assaulted police officers, who damaged police property, who set property on fire. We have made several arrests in those cases and more arrests are coming in the near future,” he said. 

The department’s policy requires keeping a log documenting all facial recognition searches and conducting monthly audits. It also states that “a positive facial recognition search result alone does not constitute probable cause of an arrest.”

Gottlieb calls the police investigation “very disingenuous” and tells us he’s concerned there are no statewide rules and regulations for facial recognition. 

NBC 6 Investigators found Miami Police have a much more detailed policy than other departments using the technology in South Florida. The Broward County Sheriff’s Office, Miami-Dade Police and Coral Spring Police told NBC 6 they have not used the technology to make arrests during the protests following the death of George Floyd.

In an email, the Clearview’s CEO Hon Ton-That told NBC 6: “Clearview AI is also committed to the responsible use of its powerful technology and is used only for after-the-crime investigations to help identify criminal suspects. It is not intended to be used as a surveillance tool relating to protests or under any other circumstances.”

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