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Advocacy groups ask Orlando police to drop surveillance software

The groups are asking Orlando Chief John Mina to "forgo the use of public surveillance and facial recognition technology as a tool of law enforcement"


By Ryan Gillespie
Orlando Sentinel

ORLANDO, Fla. — Groups representing a wide range of interests and causes are asking Orlando police Chief John Mina to “forgo the use of public surveillance and facial recognition technology as a tool of law enforcement.”

A total of 11 groups signed on to a letter to Mina — including the Orange County Classroom Teachers Association, the United Faculty of Florida at UCF, the Arab American Institute, the American Civil Liberties Foundation of Florida and the Farmworker Association of Florida.

The letter noted work the department does to foster positive relationships with the community, but said the groups feared use of the Amazon software would “undermine” those efforts.

The Orlando Police Department had been testing Amazon’s high-tech facial recognition software, formally called Rekognition, in three of the city’s IRIS cameras downtown, as well as five more cameras within its police headquarters. Police Chief John Mina said the software was only being used to track seven OPD officers who volunteered to participate in the test.

Wednesday, a spokeswoman for Mayor Buddy Dyer confirmed the pilot had expired and city staff was debating whether or not to recommend continuing it.

A spokeswoman for the American Arab Institute said the letter was sent to Mina Thursday. It’s posted in full below, and an annotated version is available here.

Police Chief John Mina,

As you know, Amazon has developed a new facial recognition system, called Rekognition, which it seeks to provide to governments and law enforcement organizations. The system boasts “detection and recognition of text in images, real-time face recognition across tens of millions of faces, and detection of up to 100 faces in challenging crowded photos.” Rekognition is marketed as giving law enforcement the ability to track “persons of interest” across cameras, within a video, and by creating alerts.

However, documents obtained by the American Civil Liberties Union have shown that Rekognition can be easily used to violate civil liberties and civil rights. The software has the potential of being used for discriminatory immigration enforcement, monitoring individuals who attend protests and engage in other non-violent activities, or disproportionately surveilling minority communities and residents who have committed no crimes.

Despite these civil liberties concerns, the Orlando Police Department (OPD) has partnered with Amazon and has at least five Rekognition cameras at headquarters and has already deployed three additional Rekognition cameras in downtown Orlando. We know first-hand the time and energy the OPD invests into making connections with community members across this city. This is why OPD’s trial of technology with the potential to indiscriminately surveil Orlando streets is troubling. The use of Rekognition will undermine the hard work the Department does to build trust across all communities in Orlando with programs such as Orlando Speaks.

The context of increased ICE raids, FBI targeting of Black Lives Matter activists, the securitizing of communities through Countering Violent Extremism (CVE) initiatives, racial disparities in the use of police force, and the President’s Muslim Ban has led to increased levels of distrust both within our community and across the nation. The mere use of Rekognition, or similar public surveillance and facial recognition systems, will exacerbate that distrust, and will promote suspicion and public self-censorship in the Orlando metro area. Communities that already feel under attack by government and law enforcement will be less likely to engage with the OPD, even when they are victims of crime.

While many civil society, religious, and advocacy organizations in Orlando have a positive relationship with both the police department and the mayor’s office, the use of facial recognition by law enforcement in public areas would undermine these relationships. For the above reasons, the undersigned organizations ask that you reconsider your trial of Amazon’s Rekognition software and commit to forgo the use of public surveillance and facial recognition technology as a tool of law enforcement.

Sincerely,

ACLU Foundation of Florida

Arab American Community Center of Florida

Arab American Institute

Farmworker Association of Florida, Inc.

FL Immigrant Coalition

Mi Familia Vota

NeJame Law

Orange County Classroom Teachers Association

Organize Florida

Sikh American Legal Defense and Education Fund (SALDEF)

United Faculty of Florida at UCF

©2018 The Orlando Sentinel (Orlando, Fla.)

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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