Under Orlando’s real-time surveillance partnership with Amazon, everyone’s a suspect 

All eyes on us

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click to enlarge One of Orlando’s roughly 180 IRIS cameras, one of the models used in conjunction with Amazon Rekognition - PHOTO BY JOEY ROULETTE
  • Photo by Joey Roulette
  • One of Orlando’s roughly 180 IRIS cameras, one of the models used in conjunction with Amazon Rekognition

Almost three weeks after the pilot program ended on June 19, city officials released a memo announcing a plan to begin a second testing period with Amazon, saying Orlando staff had "made good strides in testing this pilot program and believe it is important to continue this evaluation period." Although the memo says "continue" rather than "start new," the original program ended June 19 and no new statement of work has been signed, according to publicly available records.

"We don't even know if the product works," says Mina, who nonetheless endorsed the program in a statement posted to Amazon's website in May that has since been deleted. "If the technology works, [we] intend to use it for those worst-case scenarios, for the most violent people out there – your sexual predators, people who have committed heinous crimes, murder, and that sort of thing, and as well to locate missing persons and missing juveniles."

Orlando hasn't created any rules or procedures regarding its use of Rekognition. Mina insists it will only be used to uphold public safety by apprehending people who already have warrants out for their arrest. OPD would "absolutely not" use facial recognition to identify people at rallies, Mina says. "We don't have a history of that – of tracking protesters, of tracking people who show up to rallies. So, why would we use our technology to do that? This is strictly public safety."

"A perfect example is Markeith Lloyd, who was a wanted murder suspect running around Orlando for many, many weeks, going in and out of stores, in and out of the Walmart," Mina says, referring to the elusive murder suspect who killed Lt. Debra Clayton after shooting his pregnant ex-girlfriend a month before. "Say we had Amazon Rekognition in place, and we saw Markeith Loyd walking into the Walmart and it recognized that person as Markeith Loyd. You know, we would send officers right there, to take a dangerous criminal off the streets."

But Mina and city officials have implied that the technology could be used to stop future attacks as well, like a planned school shooting or the man who police allege intended to kidnap pop singer Lana Del Rey in February after her concert at Amway Center.

"This entire nation and everyone is looking to law enforcement to protect their children in schools," Mina says. "If we were to get a social media threat and identify a person – Joe Smith says he's going to this school to blow up the school, to kill a bunch of children, certainly we would want to be alerted to that long before there was a warrant for that person's arrest."

In the city's July 6 memo, officials pointed to the success of facial recognition after a gunman killed five Capital Gazette employees in Annapolis, Maryland. But the technology used by Anne Arundel County Police to identify that suspect is nothing like how Orlando wants to use Rekognition.

"It's different," says Marc Limansky, spokesperson for Anne Arundel County Police. "It's not that. I don't know if the public would stand for that."

Limansky says the suspect, Jarrod Warren Ramos, did not want to give investigators his name when he was apprehended. After a lag in getting fingerprint results, police took a photo of Ramos and sent it to the Maryland Coordination and Analysis Center, where it was compared with millions of images in the Maryland Image Repository System, or MIRS. The repository contains the state's entire driver's license database and mugshots of known offenders, as well as access to the FBI's database of nearly 25 million mugshots.

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