A win for privacy as Florida police abandon plans to utilize Amazon's facial recognition tech

Heather Parry

By Heather Parry

05 July 2018

Last week, a controversial plan by the Orlando police department to use Amazon-designed facial recognition technology which has been highly criticised by privacy advocates.

Rekognition, created by Amazon, takes images provided by customers and checks them against a customer-generated database, searching for a match using Amazon’s cloud computing network AWS.

The Orlando police department hoped to use this to identify citizens caught by city-owned surveillance cameras. Police offers from the department volunteered to be trialed for the program, which used images of their faces to see if it could identify them from surveillance camera footage.

Sgt. Eduardo Bernal told USA TODAY that the department did not use any images of members of the public for these tests, but the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida argued that the limited scope of the testing did not ensure that it wouldn’t be used on the public in future.

The ACLU and other privacy advocates have argued strongly that this technology could be used to unfairly target those who have fallen foul of the authorities despite not committing crimes, and that it infringes on the privacy of people going about their daily lives. They also argued that it did not follow due process.

In a letter to the police department sent last Monday, the ACLU stated:

No City policies or rules meaningfully restrict the Police Department from rapidly expanding the system in the near future by, for example, activating it across the City’s public-facing cameras or adding it to the many body cameras Orlando police officers use every day.

Despite abandoning the pilot, the police department made clear that they would not shy away from using similar technologies in the future. In a joint statement with the City of Orlando, it said:

Partnering with innovative companies to test new technology — while also ensuring we uphold privacy laws and in no way violate the rights of others — is critical to us as we work to further keep our community safe.

It seems that other departments are also committed to using this tech. The Sheriff’s Department in Washington County, Oregon has already been using Rekognition for over a year—and it appears that more are likely to do so in future.

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