Facial Recognition Software Sees Progress but Future Still Unclear

By Deborah L. O’Mara | Jan 15, 2021
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In 2021, facial recognition looks to continue to hit its share of snares as clear consensus on the technology and its rightful applicability seems just out of reach. The physical security industry is digging in, focusing on educating consumers, lawmakers and local and state municipalities on the positives of these biometrics and laying the groundwork for greater acceptance.

Silver linings continue to emerge and bolster the industry’s charge to remove restrictions and bans that now exist in cities and states from coast to coast. Facial recognition is gaining traction and value for crime-fighting and security identification, especially in law enforcement, transportation and schools, according to an independent public opinion research study commissioned by the Security Industry Association (SIA), Silver Spring, Md., compiled by Schoen Cooperman Research.

Conducted among a sampling of 1,000 adults in the United States, the objective of the research was to understand perception of the technology; measure support for facial recognition by private businesses, government agencies, law enforcement and other organizations; and analyze the benefits to determine if Americans support its use or if they’re more likely to oppose it in certain instances.

Research findings include:

  • 78% agree that facial recognition technology can improve security systems
  • 74% agree that facial recognition technology can speed up security lines at airports and large events
  • 68% agree that facial recognition technology can make society safer

Among other survey results, respondents favorably support (by percentage) the use of face reading biometrics in a range of vertical markets or groups. These include airlines (75%), office buildings (70%), TSA and other airports (69%), banks (68%), K–12 education (67%), police and law enforcement (66%), homes (63%), borders (59%), colleges and universities (57%) and retail stores (51%).

In specific markets, for example law enforcement, 54% said facial recognition can help reduce racial bias often found in eyewitness accounts and law enforcement investigations. Some two-thirds of respondents support schools using facial recognition to screen adult visitors in an effort to alert safety personnel if prohibited individuals and criminals, such as sex offenders, enter without permission.

Testing facial recognition’s mettle

Despite these positives, 2021 will continue to be a proving ground for the industry and technology. As 2020 closed out, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo signed into law one of the country’s first statewide restrictions on the use of all biometric identification technology in schools, according a story by the Buffalo News.

This new law prohibits the use of the technology in public, non-public and charter schools. It also mandates the state’s education department to conduct a study on the systems and how to protect civil liberties, barring further use of these solutions until July 1, 2022, or until the report is complete and evaluated.

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), New York, also continues to fight the technology’s implementation on the national level.

A statement on the ACLU’s website reads: “Face recognition surveillance presents an unprecedented threat to our privacy and civil liberties. It gives governments, companies, and individuals the power to spy on us wherever we go—tracking our faces at protests, political rallies, places of worship, and more. The ACLU is taking to the courts, streets, legislatures, city councils, and even corporate boardrooms to defend our rights against the growing dangers of this unregulated surveillance technology.”

SIA continues to take a broad brushstroke lobbying and advocacy effort, educating various groups, stakeholders and legislators on the ongoing improvements now inherent in performance and software algorithms. Last year it responded favorably to a National Institute of Standards and Technology report as part of its Face Recognition Vendor Test program. The report found improved performance and confirmed current technology is more effective and accurate across racial and demographic groups. In addition, SIA published and released a document called “Principles for the Responsible and Effective Use of Facial Recognition Technology,” focusing on manufacturer transparency, accuracy, training, data security and privacy-by-design as leading guidelines for product manufacturers and software developers.

With the new administration in Washington, D.C., there may also be renewed interest in national legislation. Vice President Kamala Harris indicated the potential regulation of facial recognition technology and other surveillance as part of her plan to reform the criminal justice system and public safety while instituting regulations and protections that do not “further racial disparities or other biases.”

About The Author

O’MARA writes about security, life safety and systems integration and is managing director of DLO Communications. She can be reached at [email protected] or 773.414.3573.

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