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Orlando police sign on for second trial of Amazon facial recognition technology


The Orlando Police Department has signed an agreement for its second test of Amazon’s facial recognition technology despite what Orlando Weekly characterizes as widespread concerns about privacy and civil liberties.

The city had announced plans for the second trial earlier this year, but the terms of the follow-up trial of Rekognition software have only recently been finalized. The new test will take place over a nine-month period, with eight surveillance cameras. Four of the cameras are located at police headquarters, three in the city’s downtown area, and one is outside of a recreation center. The city of Orlando has a network of estimated to consist of 180 IRIS security cameras.

“The second phase pilot will include the same parameters and controls utilized in the first pilot,” Cassandra Lafser, a spokesperson for the city told Orlando Weekly in an email. That means it will not be used to identify criminal suspects, but only police who agreed to participate in the test.

The previous six-month trial ended in June. That agreement was signed shortly after Rekognition was released in late 2017, and during the test period, the OPD discovered that the computers operating the surveillance camera network are only powerful enough to apply the software to eight cameras.

Orlando Police Chief John Mina says concerns are misplaced, because even if it is eventually deployed for production, the system would only be used to provide alerts when it identifies an individual with a warrant out for his or her arrest.

“Following the pilot, if the City of Orlando Police Department decides to ultimately implement official use of the technology, City staff would explore procurement and develop a policy governing the technology,” Lafser said.

The only other police department in the country openly using Rekognition is the Washington County Sherriff’s Office in Oregon, which does not make use of its real-time capabilities.

Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos recently spoke at an event about the importance of facing scrutiny, but also said that making unpopular decisions is part of the job of senior leadership. An Amazon employee published an anonymous editorial this week, saying that 450 employees had signed a letter delivered to Amazon executives, demanding that the company stop working with police departments to provide Rekognition, that the company kick Palantir off of AWS, and that employees be granted oversight on ethical decisions made by the company.

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