Orlando ends Amazon's controversial facial recognition pilot program after technical glitches

A pilot of Amazon's facial recognition program is coming to an end in Orlando after being plagued by technical issues, bandwidth problems and criticism of the controversial face-scanning technology.

Amazon's Rekognition, which is designed to automatically identify and track suspects in real time, was being used with four cameras at the city's police headquarters.

"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," Orlando's Chief Administrative Office said in a memo to the city council, the publication reports, adding that the city has "no immediate plans regarding future pilots to explore this type of facial recognition technology."

A statement posted online by the city states that the pilot program was set to end this month.

The American Civil Liberties Union, which first shined a spotlight on the pilot program over a year ago, prompting a backlash from technologists and others who say the program is biased against black people and some U.S. lawmakers, praised the city's decision in a statement to Fox News.

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Fight for the Future, a digital rights group, is calling for a total ban on facial recognition technology at the federal level.

Fight for the Future, a digital rights group, is calling for a total ban on facial recognition technology at the federal level. (Fight for the Future)

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"Congratulations to the Orlando Police Department for finally figuring out what we long warned – Amazon’s surveillance technology doesn’t work and is a threat to our privacy and civil liberties," said Matt Cagle, a technology and civil liberties attorney with ACLU of Northern California. "This failed pilot program demonstrates precisely why surveillance decisions should be made by the public through their elected leaders, and not by corporations secretly lobbying police officials to deploy dangerous systems against the public."

The news comes amid increasing scrutiny of all forms of technology, and the decision by three U.S. cities to approve facial recognition bans: Oakland, Calif., San Francisco, Calif. and Somerville, Mass.

However, Florida currently has not state laws governing the use of facial recognition technology, according to Orlando Weekly.

A spokesperson for Amazon provided Fox News with the following statement via email on Friday afternoon:

“We believe our customers – including law enforcement agencies and other groups working to keep our communities safe – should have access to the best technology. We also believe that facial recognition can materially benefit society, as we’ve seen with Amazon Rekognition’s use to combat human trafficking, as one example. One customer alone has used Rekognition to identify over 9,000 trafficking victims. Over the past several months, we’ve talked to customers, researchers, academics, policymakers, and others to understand how to best balance the benefits of facial recognition with the potential risks. We outline clear guidelines in our documentation and blog for public safety use, where we also reiterated our support for the creation of a national legislative framework covering facial recognition.”

Orlando's chief information officer, Rosa Akhtarkhavari, told the newspaper that bandwidth issues prevented city staffers from using Amazon's powerful software in conjunction with any more than one camera — and things didn't always work as expected.

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The city's surveillance cameras lacked the right video resolution to get clear images of the group of officers volunteering as subjects, and video feeds would randomly disconnect whenever officials could get a stream running with the software, Orlando Weekly reports.

The pilot lasted 15 months and Amazon sent teams to Orlando at no cost to the city, the Florida news outlet reports.

Orlando Weekly also reports that Rekognition "relies on the so-called MegaFace dataset of nearly 5 million face photos and two other datasets that Amazon shrouds as proprietary."

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This article was updated with Amazon's statement.

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