Washington, DC - The Arab American Institute, along with 10 Orlando based community groups, wrote to Orlando Police Chief John Mina on Thursday urging him to “commit to forgo the use of public surveillance and facial recognition technology as a tool of law enforcement” following reports of the Amazon Rekognition software pilot program. Signatories include: 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), and United Faculty of Florida at UCF.
Full text of the letter, including annotations, may be found here. Excerpts follow:
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.
Founded in 1985, the Arab American Institute (AAI) is a nonprofit organization committed to the civic and political empowerment of Americans of Arab descent. AAI provides policy, research and public affairs services to support a broad range of community activities. For more information please visit aaiusa.org.