Orlando police chief says Amazon's facial recognition program is also being tested downtown, contradicting earlier statement


  • Photo by Monivette Cordeiro
  • John Mina
On Wednesday, Orlando police Chief John Mina said Amazon’s facial-recognition software is only being tested at OPD headquarters. But that wasn’t the whole truth, as confirmed yesterday when Mina said there are currently three surveillance cameras in downtown Orlando that are equipped with the software.

At a news conference, Mina said that five cameras with the company’s Rekognition software are in OPD’s headquarters. The software is also installed on three of the city’s IRIS cameras downtown, and according to Mina, the seven OPD officers who volunteered for the pilot are the only individuals whose images have been uploaded into the system.

It was Mina’s way of providing reassurance that the software is not currently tracking any members of the public.

“We test new equipment all the time,” Mina told those in attendance. “We test news guns, new vests, new shields, new things for police cars all the time. That doesn’t mean that we’re going to go with that particular product. We just want to see if it works.”

But that doesn’t negate the fact that that facial recognition algorithms have
raised plenty of issues with racial bias in the past, and neither does it confront the fact that there's a righteous sense of skepticism after Mina had to correct the record. 

Also, Mina failed to put an answer to several attention-worthy questions:
  • Where are the cameras equipped with the technology located downtown?
  • How long has the software been installed in them?
  • And who, including Amazon, actually has access to the video?
All of which Mina couldn't or didn't answer, either by declining to do so or simply saying he wasn't sure.

“We would never use this technology to track random citizens, immigrants, activists or people of color,” Mina said. “The pilot program is just us testing this technology out to see if it even works.”

Even so, Mina made clear his enthusiasm for the potential of facial recognition technology by pointing to case earlier this year in which an Orlando man was arrested for kidnapping threats against the singer Lana Del Ray.

“We had identified him. We knew he was en route to the arena,” Mina said. “We didn’t know when exactly he going to get there. Imagine if this technology had been in place and cameras were able to track him and alert us that he was getting close.”

Right, Mina. Imagine that. Next, imagine how grotesque the abuses of such a type of technology could amount to, because pendulums swing both ways.

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