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Orlando Police Halt Limited Testing of Amazon’s Rekognition

An internal memo states that the department is “not able to dedicate the resources to the pilot to enable us to make any noticeable progress toward completing the needed configuration and testing.”

by Tess Sheets, Orlando Sentinel / July 19, 2019
Orlando PD Headquarters Courtesy City of Orlando

(TNS) — After more than a year of testing Amazon’s high-tech facial recognition software, the city of Orlando announced Thursday it will not continue the program, citing a lack of resources needed to continue testing, a memo sent to city council members Thursday shows.

The letter, sent from Orlando’s Chief Administrative Officer Kevin Edmonds, police Chief Orlando Rolón and Chief Information Officer Rosa Akhtarkhavari, said the city is ending use the Amazon’s face-matching software, Rekognition, because it “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.”

Thursday’s memo did not elaborate on how the software performed in testing or any issues that surfaced during the pilot program. A city spokeswoman did not grant an interview request seeking more details on the city’s evaluation.

No other facial recognition pilot programs are in the pipeline for OPD, the memo stated, but officials did not rule out the possibility of more testing in the future.

“While we have no immediate plans regarding future pilots to explore this type of facial recognition technology, we will continue our efforts to position the city to take advantage of advances as they emerge, further supporting our city’s mission to become America’s premier Future-Ready City,” the memo stated.

OPD has been testing Amazon’s software since December 2017. The project wasn’t revealed publicly until May 2018, when the American Civil Liberties Union obtained documents related to the software and discovered it was being tested in Orlando.

The ACLU and other civil rights groups have expressed concern that the surveillance system could be used to track protesters or immigrants, and wrote a letter to former OPD Chief John Mina in June 2018 asking him to stop using it in Orlando.

Mina had touted the technology’s potential use in helping identify and track people with a warrant in real-time. He said it was not being used to track citizens during the pilot — only seven OPD employees who volunteered for testing. Three IRIS cameras in downtown Orlando and five others at OPD headquarters were equipped with the Rekognition software, the city said.

In a 2018 memo to city council members, Mina and other city officials said the technology could have been used to track down Markeith Lloyd, the man accused of fatally shooting OPD Sgt. Debra Clayton, in the weeks before the Jan. 2017 killing when he was a wanted fugitive. It also touted facial recognition technology for helping to apprehend Jarrod Ramos, the man accused of fatally shooting five employees June 28, 2018, at the Capital Gazette newspaper in Maryland.

Matt Cagle, a Technology and Civil Liberties attorney with the ACLU of Northern California, responded to the pilot program’s end in a statement Thursday, saying “[c]ongratulations to the Orlando Police Department 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."

He added, "[t]his 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.”

©2019 The Orlando Sentinel (Orlando, Fla.). Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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