Orlando police end controversial Amazon Rekognition trial

FILE – This Sept. 6, 2012, file photo, shows the Amazon logo in Santa Monica, California. (AP Photo/Reed Saxon, File) (Copyright 2016 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

(Copyright 2016 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistribu)

The fear of Big Brother in Orlando, Florida. are easing.

The Orlando Police Department has stopped the use of Amazon’s controversial Rekognition facial recognition technology, which the Web giant says that can be used to identify “all the faces in the group photos, crowded events and public places such as airports and department stores.” In a joint statement emailed to PCMag on Tuesday, the city and the Police said that the pilot programme to trial the technology ended last week.

“The staff continue to discuss and evaluate whether to recommend continuation of the pilot at a further date,” the statement reads. “At this time, that process is still ongoing and the agreement with Amazon continues smoothly.”

Orlando police had been using the technology to match faces captured by the street surveillance cameras to upload photos in a database to keep tabs on high-profile individuals, such as the mayor, or the identification of persons of interest.

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“Orlando is always looking for new solutions for our ability to keep our residents and visitors safe,” the city and the Police statement continued. “The cooperation with innovative companies to test new technology, while also ensuring we maintain the privacy legislation and in no way infringes on the rights of others – is crucial to our work to continue to keep our community safe.”

The technology has drawn fierce scrutiny from privacy advocates, who worry can be used to track people without their knowledge or consent.

In a Monday letter to Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer, the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida, demanded to leave the city of the technology.

“The face of surveillance systems such as Rekognition a major threat for Orlando residents and visitors,” the letter reads. “These systems make it possible for the mass-location tracking of residents without criminal suspicion. Amazon’s product is ready for misuse.”

The letter notes that the Orlando Police Department used the technology “in public places, without inviting a public debate, obtain local regulatory approval or adoption of a scheme for the prevention of damage to Orlando members of the community.”

Amazon does not immediately respond to PCMag’s request for comment.

Meanwhile, a group of Amazon’s own employees last week pressured the company to stop the provision of the technology to the police and the US immigration authorities about the fears of potential abuse.

“We refuse to build the platform that powers of ICE (U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement), and we refuse to contribute to tools that violate human rights,” is to be read in an internal letter to the employees, as first reported by The Hill.

In a blog post earlier this month, Amazon said the technology – which, according to The New York Times is still in use in Washington County, Ore. – is the help to stop crimes such as human trafficking and the exploitation of children. “There have always been and will always be risks with new technological possibilities,” Amazon said. “But we believe that it is the wrong approach to the imposition of a ban on new promising technologies, because they can be used by bad actors for nefarious purposes in the future.”

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