Police facial recognition off in Orlando, on in Netherlands and considered in Sweden
Orlando Police Department’s (OPD’s) trial of Amazon’s Rekognition facial biometric software has reached the end of its second phase and will be discontinued, after 15 months that Orlando Weekly reports were plagued by technical problems, bandwidth limitations, and uncertainty about the technology’s performance.
The trial has drawn headlines and controversy for an apparent lack of training and rules for adding images of “persons of interest” to the database.
“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,” says a memo to City Council from Orlando’s Chief Administrative Office. According to the letter, the city has “no immediate plans regarding future pilots to explore this type of facial recognition technology.”
During the second phase of the pilot, Orlando Chief Information Officer Rosa Akhtarkhavari told Orlando Weekly that a reliable stream had not been established more than a year after the trial’s launch.
An Amazon Web Services spokesperson said in a statement that the company believes law enforcement agencies and other customers “should have access to the best technology.”
ACLU Technology and Civil Liberties Attorney Matt Cagle said the OPD “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 also said the pilot demonstrates why surveillance decisions should be made by the public via elected representatives, rather than companies lobbying police officials.
Dutch police hold 1.3M faces
The database is made up of images of people who are suspected of committing crimes carrying jail sentences of four years or longer. A police spokesperson also said that the force has access to a much larger database with images of refugees and undocumented migrants, and that images in the criminal suspect database are kept for 20, 30, or 40 years, depending on the severity of the crime the individual is suspected of committing.
Vice found that the database yielded 93 matches in 2017.
“Local authorities talk about smart cities and general tracking, but there is no strong lobby in the Netherlands against facial recognition,” Lotte Houwing of advocacy group Bits of Freedom told Vice. That is a debate which is only just starting.”
Swedish police plan adoption
Police in Sweden completed a trial of facial recognition technology earlier this year, and are now seeking to deploy it to daily operations, according to Swedish outlet The Local.
Swedish police have built a database of 40,000 images of people detained or arrested on suspicion of a crime. They tested it with 83 image submissions during the trial this past spring, and found matches in about a quarter of the cases. Police representative Martin Valfridsson said the technology follows roughly the same principle as fingerprint and DNA searches, and is much faster than searching photos manually.
The technology will have to be approved by the Data Inspection Board before being operationalized, but Swedish Bar Association General Secretary Anne Ramberg does not seem to view this as a sure thing, expressing concern about the protection of individual freedom and democratic rights.