Documents suggest Orlando Police facial recognition pilot training and communication inadequate

The Orlando Police Department’s pilots of Amazon’s facial recognition technology have had mixed early results, according to documents obtained by Buzzfeed News under a Freedom of Information request.

Now in its second phase, Amazon told the OPD as the first phase of the pilot was being set up that the proof of concept “may generate as many questions as answers.”

“Currently the full loop is working. Video is being ingested, and Rekognition is analyzing it,” an AWS employee wrote to the Orlando Police Department in a February 14 email. “We have had positive hits, and some missed faces.”

The deployment is concerning to Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR) and others because of a lack of clear, written policies governing the technology’s use, such as to deal with misidentification and appeals. Further, a police representative told BuzzFeed News that officers did not receive training from Amazon on standards for uploading images, and the department does not appear to have provided training on rules for submitting images to add “persons of interest” to the database.

The documents indicate that Amazon provided tens of thousands of dollars worth of technology to the city for free, and that the parties signed a mutual nondisclosure agreement to keep some Rekognition pilot details private. They also show that the number of cameras used in the pilot may be increased from the 8 used in the first one, in order to demonstrate scalability.

An AWS spokesperson said free credits and nondisclosure agreements are standard practice.

Communicating accurately with the public about the project has posed a challenge for both Amazon and Orlando police, however. Chief John Mina asserted in May that the pilot was only running inside police headquarters, and then acknowledged that three cameras were testing the system in public places the next day. He also admitted he did not know if raw video feeds were shared with Amazon. For the company’s part, Amazon Rekognition Director of Software Development Ranju Das incorrectly suggested the system was in place “all over the city.”

“I’m someone who isn’t inherently troubled by video capture in public places where there’s neither a legal or logical expectation of privacy,” Orlando Sentinel columnist and city resident Scott Maxwell told BuzzFeed News. “But I was troubled by the apparent lack of understanding Orlando officials had in their own pilot program.”

The City of Orlando has recently launched a website to improve its communication with the public.

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