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Friday, June 22, 2018

Orlando groups call on Police Chief Mina to back out of Amazon's plan to use citywide facial recognition cameras

Posted By on Fri, Jun 22, 2018 at 2:22 PM

click to enlarge John Mina - PHOTO BY MONIVETTE CORDEIRO
  • Photo by Monivette Cordeiro
  • John Mina
A coalition of 11 local civil rights groups and advocacy organizations are calling on Orlando Police Chief John Mina to back out of a deal with Amazon that employs facial recognition software on city surveillance cameras.

In a letter sent to Chief Mina on Thursday, the coalition, which includes groups like the ACLU Foundation of Florida, NeJame Law and the Arab American Institute, said using Amazon's facial recognition software – called Rekognition – to monitor public spaces raises civil rights concerns and may be used to unfairly target minority communities, immigrants or activists.

"The software has the potential of being used for discriminatory immigration enforcement, monitoring individuals who attend protests and engage in other non-violent activities or disproportionately surveilling minority communities and residents who have committed no crime," the letter read.

There are three facial recognition cameras in downtown Orlando, four stationed at the Orlando Police Department headquarters and one at an undisclosed city facility. The pilot program began last December and ended earlier this week, according to contracts signed by officials.

City officials say cameras enabled with facial recognition software are not being used in an investigative capacity during the six-month test period. Cassandra Lafser, a spokeswoman for the City of Orlando, said "no decision has been reached at this time of the contract expiration."

The specter of abuse tied to facial recognition surveillance doubles down on a growing trend of institutional discrimination in the U.S. The Trump administration's crackdown on illegal immigration and racial disparities in the use of police force have created an air of distrust toward law enforcement, the letter asserts.

"The mere use of Rekognition, or similar public surveillance and facial recognition systems, will exacerbate that distrust, and will promote suspicion and public self-censorship in the Orlando metro area," the letter claims.

On Thursday, a group of Amazon employees demanded in a similarly critical letter to CEO Jeff Bezos that the company halt sales of Rekognition and similar software being used by police departments and Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

"We don't have to wait to find out how these technologies will be used," the employees, who signed themselves as "Amazonians," wrote in the letter that was first reported on by political website The Hill. "We already know that in the midst of historic militarization of police, renewed targeting of Black activists, and the growth of a federal deportation force currently engaged in human rights abuses – this will be another powerful tool for the surveillance state."

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