Following recent reports about the City of Orlando’s use of Amazon’s Rekognition, the Orlando Police Department (OPD) has now held a news conference clarifying that use. That’s according to recent reports from local sources, which covered statements made by police Chief John Mina. Speaking with the press, Chief Mina admitted that at least three IRIS surveillance cameras located in downtown Orlando were connected to Rekognition. For those who may not know, Rekognition is effectively an A.I.-driven facial recognition software tool created by Amazon. Among the capabilities of that software is the ability to identify, track, and analyze up to 100 people in a single image. That happens in real time. However, Mina went on to reassure the public that none of those cameras were actively being tracked by the software. More directly, that’s because only seven OPD officers are said to have had their images uploaded to the software.
However, it’s worth pointing out that, according to the source, at least part of the statement contradicts others made by the police chief just a day prior to the May 24 briefing in question. In fact, Chief Mina is said to have previously claimed that no cameras outside of those installed at the OPD headquarters. Mina did not comment on how long the software has been in place or give any indication as to which cameras it is installed on. Instead, the OPD representative clarified that there is no expectation of privacy in a public space and that the only photos uploaded for analysis were of volunteer officers. The department does not appear to be actively testing against residents or visitors to the city itself, at this time. Chief Mina did not appear to know whether any of the feed was redirected through Amazon’s servers or whether Amazon had any direct access to the feeds. Privacy advocates will be happy to learn that another spokesperson for the department later confirmed that Amazon’s access is strictly limited.
Although the revelation is sure to stir up at least some controversy, the police chief also conveyed a desire for testing of the system to go well. According to Minas, the technology’s capabilities would be desirable in police body cameras to assist in identifying potentially dangerous individuals during encounters. He went on to reiterate that if the camera system works well enough to see more widespread use, Amazon’s Rekognition would never be used to “track random citizens, immigrants, political activists or, certainly, people of color.” Those words may not be reassuring to many opponents of these kinds of systems. However, setting ethical dilemmas aside, it is a good start for the OPD to begin opening up about its use of the systems and clarify their use.