Orlando to continue testing Amazon facial recognition software

Amazon Rekognition will scans OPD officers' faces in extended test

ORLANDO, Fla. – The Orlando Police Department is planning to continue testing facial recognition software using city cameras as part of an Amazon Web Services pilot program.

The Amazon Rekognition software has been in testing in Orlando since May. On Friday, Orlando police officials sent a memo to Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer and the City Council with an update on the Orlando Safety Video Proof of Concept pilot program.

The first stage of the pilot program used current city equipment and did not cost anything, but OPD officials say they need more testing to decide whether the city should adopt the facial recognition program permanently.

“We have made good strides in testing this technology and believe it is important to continue this evaluation period to determine if it’s a concept that could add immeasurable value in enhancing the City’s public safety mission in a manner that balances reasonable privacy concerns,” Orlando Police Chief John Mina said. 

OPD officials said the facial recognition was used to identify the accused gunman in the Capital Gazette newspaper shooting who killed five newspaper employees.

In the memo, Orlando police cited examples where police could have used the technology, including the hunt for double murder suspect Markeith Loyd and the arrest of singer Lana Del Ray's stalker.

Loyd evaded authorities for more than a month after he shot and killed his pregnant ex-girlfriend, Sade Dixon, during which time he also is accused of fatally shooting OPD Lt. Debra Clayton, according to Orlando authorities.

"Had that technology been in place and recognized his face it could have alerted law enforcement," Mina said.

Police said they could also use the technology to find missing persons or registered sexual predators coming in close proximity to schools or children, according to the memo.

"It’s all in an effort to prevent the next tragedy," Mina said.

During the second part of the test program, images of Orlando police officers who have volunteered to participate will be used to determine if the technology could reliably identify them when they are near city cameras.

After Orlando first announced the start of the pilot program, the American Civil Liberties Union sent a letter to the Orlando City Council calling for the city to end the use of Amazon’s Rekognition face surveillance system. In the letter, the ACLU said the software is a violation of the rights to privacy, free speech and due process of Orlando residents and visitors.

“People should be able to safely live their lives without being watched and targeted by their government,” legal director of the ACLU of Florida, Nancy Abudu, said. “We demand the City of Orlando to uphold that standard and end the use of a tool that threatens public safety, and that will endanger the rights of communities of color, protesters, and immigrants.”

Nearly 20 groups of Amazon shareholders, including the Social Equity Group and Northwest Coalition for Responsible Investment, are pressuring Amazon to stop selling facial recognition technology to law enforcement, warning about potential civil and human rights violations.

Currently, the OPD is not using Amazon Rekognition for any investigations while it is still under testing and will only use it to find the volunteer officers.

Officials haven’t said what cameras are being tested around Orlando or when the next round of testing will begin.

After the second test program, OPD officials will make a decision about whether to adopt the technology and develop policies to regulate it.

"First we have to see if it even works, then we’re decide if we want to move forward with a long term purchase," Mina said.