Orlando police end controversial Amazon Rekognition trial

Fears of Big Brother in Orlando, Fla. are easing up.

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

"Staff continues 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 contract with Amazon remains expired."

Orlando police had been using the technology to match faces captured by street surveillance cameras to photos uploaded in a database to keep tabs on high-profile individuals, like the mayor, or identify persons of interests.

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"Orlando is always looking for new solutions to further our ability to keep our residents and visitors safe," the city and Police Department's statement continued. "Partnering with innovative companies to test new technology - while also ensuring we uphold privacy laws and in no way violate the rights of others – is critical to us as we work to further keep our community safe."

The technology has drawn fierce scrutiny of privacy advocates who worry it could 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 the city abandon the technology.

"Face surveillance systems like Rekognition present a grave threat to Orlando residents and visitors," the letter reads. "These systems enable the mass location tracking of residents without criminal suspicion. Amazon's product is primed for such abuse."

The letter notes that the Orlando Police Department deployed the technology "in public places without inviting a public debate, obtaining local legislative authorization, or adopting rules to prevent harm to Orlando community members."

Amazon did not immediately respond to PCMag's request for comment.

Meanwhile, a group of Amazon's own employees last week pressured the company to stop offering its technology to police and US immigration authorities over fears of potential misuse.

"We refuse to build the platform that powers ICE (US Immigration and Customs Enforcement), and we refuse to contribute to tools that violate human rights," reads an internal company letter from 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. – has been helping to stop crimes such as human trafficking and child exploitation. "There have always been and will always be risks with new technology capabilities," Amazon said. "But we believe it is the wrong approach to impose a ban on promising new technologies because they might be used by bad actors for nefarious purposes in the future."

This article originally appeared on PCMag.com.