First a ‘Ross from Friends’ lookalike was snapped carrying beers after allegedly stealing a wallet in Blackpool, now a Woody Harrleson lookalike in New York has been pictured also making off with beer.
Police in New York were investigating a beer thief and were initially stumped when the CCTV was too poor quality to be run through their facial recognition software.
Investigators then made a vital connection. The suspect was the spitting image for Hollywood star Woody Harrelson.
A high-resolution photo of the Cheers star and three-time Oscar winner was run through the system in April 2017 and returned several possible matches and led to one arrest, according to a new report.
Georgetown University’s centre on privacy and technology used the case to argue that the use of facial recognition by official bodies remains flawed.
Clare Garvie, one of the centre’s researchers, said: “The stakes are too high in criminal investigations to rely on unreliable – or wrong – inputs.”
She added: “It is one thing for a company to build a face recognition system designed to help individuals find their celebrity doppelganger or painting lookalike for entertainment purposes. It’s quite another to use these techniques to identify criminal suspects, who may be deprived of their liberty and ultimately prosecuted based on the match.”
The New York Police Department say their use of facial recognition is used only to produce leads and would not be the sole basis for an arrest.
The report states the recognition technology helped the NYPD solve around 2,900 cases in more than five years.
The Harrelson case closely mimicks Abdulah Husseini, a suspected thief and fraudster in Blackpool who prompted headlines across the world after a video of him went viral thanks to his likeness to David Schwimmer, who played Ross from sitcom Friends. The similarity was so uncanny, Schwimmer recreated the clip for a joke.
This example of facial recognition use comes as San Francisco this week became the first US city to ban police and other public departments from using facial recognition software, citing privacy concerns.
The use of facial recognition by the police in the UK is controversial, with research from campaign group Big Brother Watch showing 98% of “matches” found by the technology during earlier tests by the Met Police were wrong.