N.Y. Teen Blames Apple’s Facial Recognition for Wrongful Arrest, Files $1B Lawsuit

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A New York man is suing Apple for $1 billion, claiming the tech giant’s facial recognition system falsely linked him to a string of thefts at Apple stores on the East Coast.

Ousmane Bah is accused of stealing from several of the company’s stores, which sell electronics that employ facial recognition technology. In his lawsuit, filed in Manhattan federal court last Monday, Bah said the claims have caused him “great humiliation” and concern for his safety.

Ousmane Bah
Ousmane Bah (left) was arrested but let go after a detective realized he looking nothing like the suspect (right) caught stealing in a from an Apple store. (Photos courtesy of KTVU and Subhan Tariq)

The 18-year-old claims someone used his stolen ID, which doesn’t include a photo, to pass themselves off as him when they were caught swiping $1,200 worth of merchandise from an Apple store in Boston in May 2018, according to court documents. The ID, an interim learner’s permit, only lists Bah’s name, address and other personal information.

Bah and his attorney, Subhan Tariq, believe Apple took the suspect at his word and programmed its security software to recognize the man’s face as Bah’s, the New York Post reported. After the thief ripped off Apple stores in Delaware, New Jersey and Manhattan, Bah was blamed, leading to charges against him in multiple jurisdictions.

Three of the cases have been dropped, however, there are still two outstanding arrests for Bah in New Jersey, the suit says.

Bah, who’s never been in Boston and was preparing for his senior prom on the day of the theft, has maintained his innocence throughout the case. Security video provided by his attorney to Bay Area station KTVU shows the sticky-fingered suspect, who is much shorter than Bah and has a different physical build, perusing the Apple store.

“We believe the video clearly exonerates Mr. Bah and puts the onus on Apple to answer how did they identify my client as the perpetrator of a crime if they weren’t using facial recognition,” Bah’s attorney, Mr. Tariq, told the news station.

It’s still unclear whether the man on video has been located, or is linked to the other thefts on the East Coast.

Bah said he only learned of the mix-up after getting a Boston municipal court summons in the mail last June, court documents state.

The NYPD arrested teen in the wee hours of Nov. 29, 2018 for $1,200 larceny theft of mostly high-tech pencils at an Apple store in Manhattan. However, a detective working the case quickly realized that Bah looked nothing like the thief captured on the store’s surveillance video. In the lawsuit, Bah’s lawyer writes that the arrest not only left his client “feeling humiliated, afraid and deeply concerned,” but nearly caused him to miss a critical midterm exam.

“Despite the false allegations and being told after the November incident in New York that they had identified the wrong guy, Apple has still not made remedial efforts to withdraw those criminal complaints in New Jersey,” Tariq told KTVU.

The false allegations have been nothing short of a hassle for the New York man, who was forced to travel to several different states in order to prove his innocence.

An Apple spokesperson declined to comment on the lawsuit but said the company does not use facial recognition software at its stores. Bah’s lawsuit argues differently and says Apple’s technology is far from foolproof.

“[Apple’s]use of facial recognition software in its stores to track individuals suspected of theft is the type of Orwellian surveillance that consumers fear,” the complaint states, adding that, “When a name is mismatched to a particular face, the security benefits [of] the Face ID software become a criminal’s weapon.”

The lawsuit names both Apple and  Security Industry Specialists Inc., a security firm, as defendants.

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