City Of Orlando Calls Off Facial Recognition Partnership With Amazon

Eric Lieberman | Associate Editor

The city of Orlando, Florida, has seemingly decided to no longer experiment with Amazon’s facial recognition technology.

The expiration of the testing, and the apparent decision to not adopt the technology completely (at least for now), follows a letter sent to Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos by several civil liberties oriented groups, like the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), which protested the supplying of the “Rekognition” tool to government entities.

“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,” the city and the Orlando Police Department said in a joint statement, Reuters reported.

The city had a temporary contract with Amazon that recently expired.

“We did a professional services engagement with the city of Orlando that was a pilot and had a discernible end date,” a spokeswoman for Amazon Web Services (AWS) told The Daily Caller News Foundation  “That this engagement ended was expected and is not news.”

Communications and other documents obtained by the ACLU Foundations of California show that Amazon is offering its services to several other jurisdictions and police departments. (REALTED: DHS Seeking Facial Recognition Tech To Scan People’s Faces In Moving Cars)

“Rekognition marketing materials read like a user manual for authoritarian surveillance,” Nicole Ozer, the technology and civil liberties director for the ACLU of California, said May 22 in a statement provided to The Daily Caller News Foundation. “Once a dangerous surveillance system like this is turned against the public, the harm can’t be undone. Particularly in the current political climate, we need to stop supercharged surveillance before it is used to track protesters, target immigrants and spy on entire neighborhoods. We’re blowing the whistle before it’s too late.”

Amazon even boasts about its machine learning capabilities for law enforcement purposes.

In a guest post published on Amazon’s blog, a senior information systems analyst for the Washington County Sheriff’s Office in Oregon boasted that they were able to index 300,000 mugshots dating back to 2001 in just roughly three days by using the Rekognition system.

Not long after the ACLU’s discovery and disclosure, Amazon employees started protesting, demanding their boss Bezos end the facial recognition agreements with law enforcement. If people internal to Amazon aren’t ultimately able to get the company to stop, then perhaps those who oppose such a collaboration and use of biometric surveillance should petition the involved local agencies.

The ACLU of Florida, after all, helped spread awareness on the issue, sending an urgent letter of its own Monday to Orlando’s Democratic Mayor Buddy Dyer and the Orlando City Council.

The article has been updated to include AWS’s comments. 

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