Breaking News: Facial Recognition Tech Disabled in Downtown Lakeland

Breaking News: Facial Recognition Tech Disabled in Downtown Lakeland

The Lakeland Downtown Development Authority (LDDA) has decided to disable the facial recognition technology incorporated in its downtown security cameras. This move comes after two weeks of public scrutiny and a looming threat of legal action.

Public Notice IssuedBreaking News: Facial Recognition Tech Disabled in Downtown Lakeland

Julie Townsend, the Executive Director of LDDA, issued a public notice on Thursday morning. The notice stated that the facial recognition function of the 14 security cameras, manufactured by Verkada, has been requested to be turned off. Townsend clarified to The Ledger that the camera’s software is already deactivated, but did not confirm the exact time of deactivation.

The LDDA views cameras as an affordable and unbiased method to maintain additional surveillance in the district, contributing to its cleanliness and safety. The news release from LDDA stated that the cameras were not purchased or installed for their facial recognition technology (FRT), but the opportunity to use the software to enhance downtown safety was appreciated.

City Commissioner’s Recommendation

City Commissioner Mike Musick, who is also an LDDA board member, had conversations about the facial recognition software. He recommended that the facial recognition technology should be turned off.

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and the ACLU of Florida stated on March 29. They filed public records requests with both the LDDA and Lakeland Police Department, demanding information about the use of facial recognition surveillance.

Nathan Freed Wessler, deputy director of ACLU’s Speech, Privacy, and Technology Project, stated that the public deserves to know how this deeply invasive technology is being used, who is being targeted for round-the-clock monitoring, and what policies, if any, restrain its use. He emphasized that real-time face surveillance poses a massive threat to civil rights and civil liberties.

Reason for Disabling Facial Recognition

Townsend cited the ACLU’s clear intent to pursue legal action and litigate the security cameras as a reason for asking Verkada to turn off facial recognition software on the cameras. The LDDA press release stated that the harmful effects of pointless litigation that the LDDA cannot afford outweigh the small benefits that facial recognition would have provided.

Removal of “People of Interest”

The LDDA has removed the three photos of individuals identified as “people of interest” that were uploaded into the facial recognition software. The organization stated that these three men met the LDDA criteria for using the software.

Criteria for “Person of Interest”

  • Someone who has been trespassed from multiple businesses in Downtown.
  • Someone who has been trespassed from the Farmers Curb Market, which is operated by the LDDA.
  • Someone who has threatened verbally or physically intimidated an employee.
  • Someone engaged in a crime in Downtown.

With the disabling of the facial recognition software, LDDA and its employees will no longer receive notice when these three individuals, or others, enter a camera’s view.

The LDDA highlighted that it is not the only business entity that might have facial recognition technology on its security cameras. The news release stated, “This software capability is standard on most cameras. What is not standard is a commitment to explain to the public what we wanted to do and why.”

Public Opposition

At a recent commission meeting, three individuals, including Lakeland resident Christopher Diaz, voiced their concerns about the LDDA’s use of the cameras. Diaz called it an invasion of citizens’ privacy and an example of government overreach.

Concerns About Tracking Individuals

Diaz pointed out that the three individuals being tracked by the cameras did not have warrants out for their arrest. If they did, it would be for low-level misdemeanor crimes.

Costs and Impact of Deactivation

Townsend had previously mentioned that the cost for the cameras and their software would be $112,500 over the next 10 years. It remains unclear whether deactivating the facial recognition cameras will impact these costs.

Questioning the Investment

Diaz questioned the logic of spending such a significant amount on these cameras for a minor problem. He suggested that a fraction of the price could be spent on overtime for officers or deputies to solve the issue.

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