Orlando Ditches Facial Recognition Technology

The city of Orlando is backing out of a test pilot it has been running using face recognition technology from Amazon.

The program from Amazon is called Rekognition and the city has twice tested the technology. The first trial run went from December 2017 to June 2018.

Several Orlando Police officers volunteered to have their faces scanned at eight points throughout the city. Four of the cameras were set up at Orlando Police Headquarters. Three more cameras were in downtown Orlando as a part of the city’s IRIS camera program. The final camera was at an undisclosed city facility.

Orlando took some heat at the outset of the program from privacy advocates but the city emphasized it never used the technology on the public at large, only on volunteers from the police force.

With the first test in hand, the city again started using the Rekognition technology in October.

The program was supposed to end in June–and Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer said it was time to do just that.

“The technology didn’t advance really during the course of the pilot,” Dyer said.

A memo from the city Chief Operating Officer Kevin Edwards and Orlando Police Chief Orlando Rolon alerted city commissioners that the city just did not have the resources available to run that technology on a broader scale even as it did not use extra staff to run the program and got the technology for free. The city simply felt like it would cost too much to meet the ultimate goal which was, according to the memo, “to determine if this technology would reliably allow law enforcement to locate specific, identifiable dangerous threats as they move around the city closing in on possible targets.”

Despite this round of facial recognition comes to an end, it does not mean the city of Orlando won’t try this surveillance in the future. Dyer says the city will keep exploring the possibility.

“We are always willing to partner with companies. We want to be on the cutting edge of technology. We want to make sure that we are a city that is future-ready,” he said.

The city will have stringent rules for transparency and meeting privacy policies. Any use of this type of technology is likely to get the public fired up to debate safety versus privacy. At the outset of the Rekognition testing, then-Police Chief–now Orange County Sheriff–John Mina said one way technology like this could be used would be to try and find dangerous criminals like Markeith Loyd.


Reach Mike Synan at mike.synan@floridadaily.com.


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