Baffling tale of Apple shops' 'non-facial' 'facial recognition', a stolen ID, and a $1bn lawsuit after a wrongful arrest

Teen loses driving permit, gets wrongly linked to spate of thefts

A teenager is suing Apple in the US for $1bn, claiming he was misidentified as a thief by a mysterious facial-recognition system in the iGiant's stores.

Ousmane Bah, 18, filed suit against Cook & Co this week after he was falsely identified as a shoplifter by, it is claimed, a facial recognition system Apple is apparently using in its stores.

Bah was wrongly accused by the cops of nicking gear from Apple's posh shops across the US East Coast, even in cities he claims never to have visited, due to Apple's technology incorrectly fingering him as the culprit, we're told.

The teen's legal complaint [PDF] states that last year the college student received a letter out of the blue summoning him to a Boston court on an allegation of theft. He was accused of stealing multiple Apple Pencils – a $99 tool used for the iPad Pro – from an Apple Store in the Massachusetts city, adding up to over $1,200 in swag.

At the time of the alleged crime, on May 31, 2018, Bah was attending his senior prom in Manhattan, and had never even been to Boston before. Months later, he was also accused of snatching stuff from the shelves several other Apple stores in New Jersey, Delaware, and New York City. In November, NYC cops barged into Bah's home at 4am, and arrested him on allegations of theft.

What’s weird is a photo of the suspected Apple Store thief included in Bah's arrest warrant didn't even look like the teenager. A NYPD detective soon realized that Bah had been wrongfully arrested: the teen didn't look like the wanted perp, hadn't been at any of the Apple Stores listed, and certainly hadn't stolen anything. So, what went wrong? It’s an unfortunate case of misplaced ID and facial recognition, the student's lawyers are claiming.

Has Apple got into facial recognition?

The lawsuit stated an NYPD detective told Bah that Apple identifies suspected thieves as they enter and walk around its stores using facial recognition technology. What may have happened was that the suspect found and kept Bah's state ID that he earlier lost, was caught stealing from an Apple store by staff, and presented the teen's ID, allowing the shop employees to link the identity to CCTV footage of the thief.

The store staff reported the theft to the police, along with the identity, leading to charges brought against him. The NYPD detective opined that Bah may have been linked to thefts at multiple stores because the face of the thief, now associated with his lost ID, popped up in Apple's in-shop facial recognition system.

Bah had recently passed a written exam to obtain a learner’s driver license, and was given a receipt as an interim permit until the real permit card arrived in the mail. Unfortunately, he lost the interim permit.

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The interim permit contained personal information about Bah’s full name, address, date of birth, sex, height, eye color, but no photo. It also states that the document shouldn’t be used as identification purposes.

The lawsuit claims that Apple ignored this advice, and, upon seeing the permit, connected the shoplifter’s face with Bah’s information. So every time the thief’s face appeared in video camera footage taken from various Apple stores, Bah was incorrectly identified as the criminal, it is claimed.

Subhan Tariq, the attorney representing Bah on behalf of The Tariq Law Firm in Long Island City, New York, told The Register: “We believe [facial recognition is] integrated into their surveillance system within the store. Complaints are made by their third-party security company, but the footage and recognition software is Apple's.”

“[The] Plaintiff received numerous criminal summons, was arrested at 4am from his home in NYC, and has suffered severe emotional distress as a result of all the negligent criminal complaints,” Tariq said.

Apple, however, has denied rolling out facial recognition across its stores. The lawsuit makes much of Apple's expertise in facial recognition use for FaceID in its phones, though relies on a single NYPD officer's comment about Cook & Co's face scanning to launch the wild billion-dollar lawsuit.

The third-party security company, Security Industry Specialists, is also mentioned as a defendant in the lawsuit. El Reg has reached out to this biz and Apple for further comment. ®

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