Teen hits Apple with $1B lawsuit over facial recognition arrest

The 18-year-old says he was wrongly accused of stealing from Apple stores.

Sean Keane Former Senior Writer
Sean knows far too much about Marvel, DC and Star Wars, and poured this knowledge into recaps and explainers on CNET. He also worked on breaking news, with a passion for tech, video game and culture.
Expertise Culture, Video Games, Breaking News
Sean Keane
2 min read
Customers gather at an Apple store.

Customers gather at an Apple store.

Wang Gang/VCG via Getty Images

An 18-year-old New Yorker filed a $1 billion lawsuit against Apple on Monday, claiming that facial recognition software incorrectly linked him to thefts at several stores.

Ousmane Bah was arrested by New York Police Department officers on Nov. 29 after being accused of thefts at Apple Stores in Manhattan, Boston, New Jersey and Delaware, according to his lawsuit.

The lawsuit says the actual thief was caught stealing $1,200 worth of merchandise -- specifically Apple Pencils -- from the Boston store on May 31, 2018. The person then used a stolen ID that included Bah's name, address and other personal details, but not his photo, according to the suit. This may actually have been a non-photo learner's permit that Bah previously lost, the suit says. Bah is African American.

The lawsuit accuses Apple of negligence, emotional distress, defamation, slander, libel and fraudulent concealment.

The alleged use of facial recognition software in Apple Stores is the "type of Orwellian surveillance that consumers fear, particularly as it can be assumed that the majority of consumers are not aware that their faces are secretly being analyzed," the suit says. 

Apple doesn't comment on legal matters, but said Tuesday that it doesn't use facial recognition technology in its stores. 

Bah's first indication of a problem was a Boston municipal court summons for June 2018, his suit says, though he hadn't been to the city before and was attending his senior prom in Manhattan on the day of the theft.

Watch this: Facial recognition is going to be everywhere

The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in New York, alleges that Apple connected Bah's name to the thief's face in its facial recognition system, which Bah claims is used at Apple Stores to track people suspected of theft. This resulted in Bah being blamed for theft across the four states, the suit says.

A New York Police Department detective who saw security footage from the Manhattan store after Bah's arrest realized the suspect "looked nothing like" Bah, according to the lawsuit.

All charges have since been dismissed, except in New Jersey, according to the lawsuit.

According to the suit, Bah has been struggling in his first year in college while he has been fighting the charges. 

"As a result of being arrested in New York, as well as having to make trips to different states in response to charges filed against him, Mr. Bah's attendance and grades suffered," the lawsuit says. "Additionally, he suffered constant anxiety over the possibility of being arrested at any time for crimes he did not commit, and of which he had no knowledge."

Originally published April 23, 5:04 a.m. PT.
Update, 9:48 a.m.: Adds response from Apple.