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Study finds facial recognition gains more acceptance by US citizens

Study finds facial recognition gains more acceptance by US citizens
Facial recognition pros and cons were the main topic in a recent study by SIA, which finds the technology has gained more acceptance in the country.
Increasingly, facial recognition is used in a variety of applications, including law enforcement and access control. Despite privacy concerns voiced by certain groups, a recent survey by the Security Industry Association (SIA) finds that, at least in the United States, most users believe facial recognition pros outweigh its cons.
As a biometric, the human face is increasingly used. Matching the face against a database to identify an individual — that’s how facial recognition works. Applications include access control and law enforcement. Even though for the latter, fingerprint is still the primary crime investigating technique, benefits of facial recognition in law enforcement are abundant, prompting officers to increasingly look at facial recognition as a viable alternative.
“Fingerprint identification has limitations where face recognition excels. Only face recognition can provide proactive measures by which to monitor for the return of a repeat offender. Face recognition can be used to investigate crimes where a perpetrator may not have touched a surface. And unlike fingerprints left behind at a crime scene — which can get smudged, cleaned off, or otherwise degrade over time — once a face image is caught by surveillance cameras or on an eyewitness’ smartphone, it is preserved unless deleted,” said Eric Hess, Senior Direct of Product Management for Face Recognition and Security Solutions at SAFR from RealNetworks.
Yet, what is facial recognition used for goes beyond law enforcement. In both public and private sectors, facial recognition can come in handy as an access control solution – allowing staff to go in by way of a scan of the face. With technology maturity, facial recognition can now identify multiple people in a frame, allowing speedy access with minimal camera setup.

Pros outweigh cons of facial recognition

Indeed, the pros and cons of facial recognition are often weighed, and there are concerns expressed by individuals and civil rights groups towards facial recognition. Privacy is one concern, as some people feel hesitant to have their faces scanned or stored in a database. Some feel that facial recognition is biased against minorities, saying few minority faces are used to train the facial recognition engine.
Yet ultimately, more and more people have come to understand what is facial recognition and believe that the pros of facial recognition outweigh its cons. “I think trust is earned when the public sees facial recognition providers working hard to reduce bias in their algorithms, improve accuracy, and as the public starts to see stories highlighting the benefits from many positive use cases — including identifying a man who disappeared after being convicted of raping a minor and sentenced to nine years in prison — people are starting to understand that this technology isn’t inherently bad,” Hess said.
The increasing acceptance toward facial recognition, at least by US citizens, was highlighted in a recent study conducted by Schoen Cooperman Research, commissioned by the SIA. For the survey, Schoen Cooperman Research conducted 1,000 interviews with a demographically representative sample of US adults nationwide from August 5 to 7, 2020.
Among the key findings, a majority of US adults (59 percent) are favorable towards facial recognition technology, and US adults broadly agree that facial recognition technology can improve security systems (78 percent) and make society safer (68 percent).
Further, with regard to the perception that facial recognition is biased against minorities, the survey shows US adults broadly believe, at 70 percent, that facial recognition technology is accurate in identifying people of all races and ethnicities, compared to 19 percent who say it’s not so accurate.

What is facial recognition ideal for

Also according to the survey, a broad range of US adults support the use of facial recognition technology in a wide array of end user organizations and instances in both the public and private sectors. These include airlines (75 percent), office buildings (70 percent), TSA and other airports (69 percent), banks (68 percent), schools at various levels (67 percent), police and law enforcement (66 percent), homes (63 percent), borders (59 percent), colleges and universities (57 percent) and retail stores (51 percent).
Commenting on this part of the survey, Hess agrees that there are places where people are used to making tradeoffs for enhanced security. “Airports are an obvious example. Other locations are those where large groups of society gather, or where we have seen past security threats and incidents unfold, or where organized crime are known to return — casinos, stadiums, arenas, large entertainment venues,” he said. “We voluntarily submit to screening for weapons at airports, stadiums, and arenas, but rarely consider that many crimes occur without weapons. Face recognition can assist in preserving safety and security at wide-ranging venues by enhancing screening procedures so that security teams can monitor for the return of persons who have previously proven their ill intent without weapons.”

Facial recognition benefits in law enforcement

In terms of law enforcement, more Americans believe again the pros outweigh the cons of facial recognition, saying that the technology can be an effective tool for law enforcement. Specifically, according to the survey, when presented with a trade-off on the issue, nearly two-thirds of US adults (66 percent) believe that facial recognition searches by investigators are non-invasive and appropriate.
Furthermore, the survey finds that, when presented with information on the benefits of facial recognition technology’s use in law enforcement as well as the proneness of eye witness testimony to racial bias, a majority of US adults (54 percent) say that facial recognition technology can help reduce the racial bias in law enforcement that comes from eye-witnesses and investigators.
Finally, the study points out that a majority of U.S. adults (57 percent) also would be comfortable if their facial image were included in a database of images used for facial recognition if it were used to promote public safety.
According to Hess, to further dispel people’s privacy concerns toward facial recognition, proper notification, data review, data access restrictions, and retention policies should be in place to ensure data is only used for the intended purpose and not used beyond the permission initially given. “Technology abuses don’t begin and end with face recognition. A company that is abusing their face recognition data — not practicing good data hygiene, with poor access control, or even disreputable opt-in practices — is probably committing security and privacy violations elsewhere. That’s why it’s critical to focus on the bad actors not just vilifying the technology. Development of auditable and objective performance and data-security measures are needed. And we need to promote the use of face recognition for positive purposes that excite, engage, and make society safer,” he said.


It’s interesting to note how facial recognition has gained traction overtime. In the past, compared to fingerprint, facial recognition was less considered due to its higher cost. But now, with video cameras becoming less expensive yet more powerful and face images more accessible – in addition to the current pandemic where contactless-ness has gained importance – facial recognition acceptance and demand are set to increase, and the SIA survey only confirms that trend.

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