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Orlando police end controversial Amazon face recognition program

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Orlando second pilot phase with Amazon’s face recognition software – called Rekognition – started in October with a total of eight cameras, four installed at the police headquarters, three in downtown and one outside a community recreation center. The software should automatically identify suspects using facial recognition AI, but the city lacks the resources to run it efficiently.

“At this time, the city was not able to dedicate the resources to the pilot to enable us to make any noticeable progress toward completing the needed configuration and testing,” said Orlando’s Chief Administrative Office in a note to City Council, and added that Orlando has “no immediate plans regarding future pilots to explore this type of facial recognition technology.”

An Amazon Web Services spokesperson declared in a statement that its customers, including law enforcement and other agencies “working to keep our communities safe” should have access to the “best technology”.

“Over the past several months, we’ve talked to customers, researchers, academics, policymakers, and others to understand how to best balance the benefits of facial recognition with the potential risks,” wrote the spokesperson in an email.

An ACLU technology and civil liberties attorney, Matt Cagle, supported the police department’s decision to cut ties with Amazon, and congratulated OPD for “finally figuring out what we long warned – Amazon’s surveillance technology doesn’t work and is a threat to our privacy and civil liberties.”

“This failed pilot program demonstrates precisely why surveillance decisions should be made by the public through their elected leaders, and not by corporations secretly lobbying police officials to deploy dangerous systems against the public,” he said.

According to a person who participated in the installation of Rekognition during the pilot’s first phase, Orlando’s surveillance cameras lacked the necessary video resolution to have clear footage of the volunteering subjects, and the angle at which the cameras are positioned means only the top part of their heads is visible in the streams.

Just before the beginning of the second phase pilot, former Orlando police chief John commented that the city had “made good strides in testing this technology,” but the downtown surveillance cameras largely proved incompatible with Rekognition. The city declined Amazon’s offer to supply its proprietary surveillance cameras, to be able to continue the pilot.

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