According to the New York Times, the Orlando Police Department has ended its contract for Amazon’s facial recognition program, called “Rekognition,” at least for now.
Amazon Rekognition Controversy
Two years ago, Amazon introduced its Rekognition system and started promoting it to law enforcement agencies as a way to more easily identify suspects in photos and videos. The Orlando Police Department and the Washington County Sheriff’s Office in Oregon were among the first to try Amazon’s pilot program.
This partnership has recently been criticized by the ACLU and Amazon shareholders, which have said that Rekognition could enable mass surveillance by authorities. The civil liberties groups worried that the facial recognition technology could be put in public cameras as well as cops’ body cameras and then used to automatically identify protesters and undocumented immigrants. Amazon has disputed these claims, saying the technology should be an overall positive for society.
Mass Location Tracking Of Innocents
In a letter sent to Orlando’s mayor, Buddy Dyer, the ACLU said that facial recognition surveillance systems such as the one being sold by Amazon to the Orlando police “enable the mass location tracking of residents without criminal suspicion.”
As such, Orlando mayor’s decision to end the city’s contract with Amazon may also have something to do with the recent Supreme Court ruling that requires the police to get an individualized warrant when tracking someone’s location.
If that ruling is to be obeyed by U.S. police departments, then implementing a service such as Amazon’s Rekognition wouldn’t be of much use, as its strength lies in identifying everyone the system sees in real-time and spotting a “suspect” among them.
In Washington County, Oregon, the Sheriff's Office seems intent on continuing to use the technology. However, Jeff Talbot, a deputy officer noted that the technology is used only to analyze jail booking photos and that it will not be used for mass or real-time surveillance, as that is prohibited by Oregon state law.