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Wednesday, June 20, 2018

City of Orlando hasn't said if they're still using Amazon's facial recognition cameras

Posted By on Wed, Jun 20, 2018 at 1:13 PM

click to enlarge PHOTO BY JOEY ROULETTE
  • Photo by Joey Roulette
Last December, the Orlando Police Department teamed up with Amazon to test facial recognition software on at least eight surveillance cameras, three of which are located in Downtown Orlando.

That pilot program ended Tuesday, June 19, according to a blueprint outlining the city's use of the software. And, after weeks of national debate over the ethics of facial recognition in policing, it's still not clear whether the city will continue to test the software, officially acquire it or cancel it altogether.

"Our staff are still discussing and evaluating if we would like to continue the pilot," Cassandra Lafser, Press Secretary for Buddy Dyer, said in an email on Tuesday. "No decision has been reached at this time of the contract expiration."

The American Civil Liberties Union revealed in April that Orlando was one of two cities in the country testing Amazon's facial recognition technology, called Rekognition. Orlando Police Chief John Mina enthusiastically supported the program in a statement posted on Amazon's website. That statement, however, disappeared from the site after the City's use of Rekognition brought widespread condemnation.

Since then, dozens of civil and human rights organizations, including groups like Human Rights Watch, ACLU Florida and the Student Immigrant Movement, have formally rebuked public use of Rekognition out of fears that it may be abused to target and track people of color and undocumented immigrants.

On Tuesday, Amazon shareholders penned a letter to the company's CEO Jeff Bezos condemning the software. Selling Rekognition to law enforcement agencies, the letter said, could potentially harm Amazon's stock value and breach basic civil rights.

"While Rekognition may be intended to enhance some law enforcement activities, we are deeply concerned it may ultimately violate civil and human rights," the letter, first released by the ACLU, read.

"The use of technology to accentuate the human sense and memory – that is sometimes problematic from a civil rights perspective," Joseph Schwerha, a former prosecutor specializing in data intelligence and evidence, told Orlando Weekly.

By uploading photos of peoples' faces to a database, then running it through security camera feeds for a match (which OPD says is only doing with select police officers at OPD headquarters), the city is testing Rekognition to determine whether it could actually help bolster city security.

But Amazon, a roughly $500 billion technology company dealing in e-commerce, cloud computing, content streaming and now government security, may have the discretion to use OPD's data for its private benefit.

"The problem people have, and frankly the problem I have with some facial recognition technology, is not the technology itself. It's the way it is kept, used and protected," Schwerha added.

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