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Monday, July 9, 2018

City of Orlando renews test of controversial Amazon surveillance program despite broad condemnation

Posted By on Mon, Jul 9, 2018 at 12:32 PM

click to enlarge PHOTO BY JOEY ROULETTE
  • Photo by Joey Roulette
Despite widespread condemnation from local and national civil rights groups, Amazon's facial recognition software is set for another trial period in Orlando following the city's first six-month pilot program that ended last month.

The facial recognition software, called Amazon Rekognition, can be used by law enforcement agencies to track down people of interest by uploading a mugshot to a stream that will pair it with subjects in a live surveillance camera feed.

The city began testing the software last December on eight surveillance cameras in Orlando as part of a test program that ended on June 19. Four cameras connected to the software are located at OPD's headquarters, three are dispersed downtown and one is fixed at an undisclosed city facility.

“We have made good strides in testing this technology and believe it is important to continue this evaluation period to determine if it’s a concept that could add immeasurable value in enhancing the City’s public safety mission in a manner that balances reasonable privacy concerns,” Orlando Police Chief John Mina said in a press release.

The only people of interest these cameras focus on, the city says, are seven police officers who have volunteered to participate as subjects – even as three of the cameras are located in undisclosed, public locations downtown.

A memo sent to Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer Monday morning addressed the upsides of using facial recognition on public surveillance cameras, saying that if a child went missing, for example, the family could provide images to law enforcement to help locate the child.

Or, as Chief Mina has repeated in recent months, facial recognition technology could have been used in January 2017 to find Markeith Lloyd, an elusive murder suspect on the loose for almost a month after killing Orlando Police Lt. Debra Clayton.

But dozens of civil rights groups have illustrated alternative uses for the program that presage misuse and a breach of civil liberties.

"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," 11 Orlando civil rights groups said in a letter to Chief Mina.

"Because of the potential value facial recognition technology could have in furthering these public safety efforts, the City intends to continue the staff evaluation and further internal testing of Amazon's Video Analytics technology through a second phase proof of concept (POC) pilot," an email announcement from the city read.

The city has run into some technical hurdles during its first round of software testing that may require pricey upgrades to existing city infrastructure.

Rosa Akhtarkhavari, Orlando's Chief Information Officer, said in an interview with Orlando Weekly that some models of the city's surveillance cameras are incompatible with Rekognition. Additionally, the police department's bandwidth for streaming video feeds alongside the software is lacking.

Akhtarkhavari, a hawk for security software and cutting-edge public safety infrastructure, spearheads the city's foray into facial recognition surveillance.

"We have at least three models of cameras that we have in the city deployed. And some of them are old, some of them are newer," Akhtarkhavari said. "What we needed to do is have proof of concept that touches the three types of cameras we have."

Being able to transfer more video data to Amazon's servers – which the city has exclusive access to – at a faster rate is necessary to implement this facial recognition program to its full potential, Akhtarkhavari said. "I can activate as many cameras as I need, but my problem is I need to have that bandwidth to move up."

Surveillance cameras at the intersection of South Street and Orange Avenue in Downtown Orlando were upgraded in early June and an additional security camera, or a so-called IRIS camera, was added in recent weeks.

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