When Pierre D. Martin was arrested on robbery charges, it didn’t seem like an unusual case. There were nearly 12,000 robberies reported to the Chicago Police Department last year, and Martin was charged in two of them after allegedly carrying out daytime stickups on commuter trains. But a July 2013 Chicago Sun-Times article pointed out why Martin’s case stood out: he had been identified using facial recognition technology.
Martin was convicted in June this year. At that time, the state’s attorney, Anita Alvarez, told the Sun-Times: “This case is a great example that these high-tech tools are helping to enhance identification and lead us to defendants that might otherwise evade capture.” But those tools — purchased by CPD through a $5.4 million federal grant — may not be as necessary as Alvarez would have you believe.
Martin’s attorney told The Verge that facial recognition tech wasn’t even mentioned at trial. And a Freedom of Information Act request with CPD revealed “no responsive records” related to the department’s use of facial recognition technology in any arrests, including Martin’s. That could mean CPD is concealing arrests tied to facial recognition. But Hanni Fakhoury, a staff attorney at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, offers another possibility: “Maybe ultimately facial recognition isn’t really all that effective,” he wrote in an email to The Verge. Maybe “all this money being put into it is a waste.”