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Orlando police are ditching Amazon Rekognition

The facial recognition program has struggled with technical errors and ethical concerns, according to the Orlando Weekly.

Abrar Al-Heeti Technology Reporter
Abrar Al-Heeti is a technology reporter for CNET, with an interest in phones, streaming, internet trends, entertainment, pop culture and digital accessibility. She's also worked for CNET's video, culture and news teams. She graduated with bachelor's and master's degrees in journalism from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Though Illinois is home, she now loves San Francisco -- steep inclines and all.
Expertise Abrar has spent her career at CNET analyzing tech trends while also writing news, reviews and commentaries across mobile, streaming and online culture. Credentials
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Abrar Al-Heeti
2 min read

The Orlando Police Department's pilot with Amazon Rekognition has ended.

Denis Charlet / AFP/Getty Images

The Orlando Police Department on Thursday ended its Amazon Rekognition program after a bumpy ride. Last May, documents and emails obtained by the American Civil Liberties Union revealed that Amazon had been selling its facial recognition technology, called Rekognition, to police in Orlando, Florida, and to the Washington County Sheriff's Office in Oregon.

Orlando's second pilot phase with Rekognition launched in October 2018. It involved placing four cameras at the headquarters of the police department, three downtown and one outside a recreation center, according to a report by Orlando Weekly. Amazon's technology is meant to use facial recognition algorithms to find and track suspects in real time.

"At this time, the city was not able to dedicate the resources to the pilot to enable us to make any noticeable progress toward completing the needed configuration and testing," reads a memo Orlando's chief administrative office shared with the city council. The office said it has "no immediate plans regarding future pilots to explore this type of facial recognition technology."

Watch this: How San Francisco's ban could impact facial recognition tech

Amazon boasts that its Rekognition technology can track and analyze hundreds of people in a photo using a database with tens of millions of faces. The ACLU has expressed concern about law enforcement's use of the technology, saying it could be abused by governments to pose "a grave threat to communities, including people of color and immigrants, and to the trust and respect Amazon has worked to build."

An MIT study earlier this year found that Amazon's facial tech showed gender and racial bias, as it struggled to identify gender among females and women with darker skin.

The Orlando Police Department stopped using Rekognition in June 2018 after the city's pilot with Amazon ended, and after the ACLU penned an open letter to Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos highlighting privacy concerns. Amazon employees also protested the sale of Rekognition software to police. But the department resumed the pilot the following month, saying it needed more time to evaluate the technology. 

In an interview during the city's second pilot with Rekognition, Rosa Akhtarkhavari, Orlando's chief information officer, told Orlando Weekly that bandwidth issues kept city staff from running the software along with more than one camera. 

Additionally, the surveillance cameras Orlando was using didn't have good-enough resolution to provide clear images of officers who volunteered to be subjects, according to the report. 

Security cameras with facial recognition tech inside

See all photos

Originally published July 18. 
Update, July 19: Adds confirmation from Orlando Police Department.