In the last few years, tech companies have been trying to sell real-time facial recognition technology to the police. The technology can track and identify people anywhere even when they walk down the street. For some time now, American police departments have resisted the idea. But it seems that this could change soon.
A police department in Orlando, Florida has confirmed it’s trying out the technology. In fact, the Orlando police department ordered the technology from Amazon. Before this deal, police departments in the US only used facial recognition to compare still photos against mugshots. This is the very first time that they will do it in real time.
Amazon also recently confirmed that their facial recognition technology had been deployed to the Orlando police department. During an address to a developer conference in Seoul, South Korea, a senior Amazon official confirmed that the e-commerce giant was working with the Orlando police department as a launch partner. The official also said that the police department had cameras all over the city that were streaming the required data. Amazon would then analyze the data and compare the video stream with the collection of faces that the police has.
The Orlando police department also responded to the news. In an official statement released by the department, the facial recognition technology was described as a “pilot program.” The statement also noted that the technology would be used in accordance with current, applicable laws. The Orlando police department didn’t say whether it had used the technology in the past or whether it was thinking of deploying it on a long-term basis.
However, the department added that the facial recognition technology isn’t being used for any investigative work and it isn’t deployed in public spaces. In addition to this, the program is currently limited to only 8 city-owned cameras. Only a handful of police officers are involved in it and they all volunteered to do so.
On its part, Amazon acknowledged that the technology had been deployed in Orlando but moved to calm any fears that it could be abused. The e-commerce giant said that the facial recognition technology has diverse applications beyond policing. The company also observed that such an innovation shouldn’t be feared even though it comes with the risk of abuse.
The biggest advantage of the Amazon tool is its cost. In the past, police departments would pay thousands of dollars to secure facial recognition technology from traditional providers such as the NEC. But Amazon is changing all this by offering the same if not better capabilities for a fraction of the cost.
The only challenge though will be to use the technology in real time. If deployed in public places like a city, for example, such a system could run into many legal and privacy issues. These issues will need to be resolved. It’s clear though that the technology is needed and it could really make police work easier. But just like all major tech innovations, the question of ethics will always be the most important one.