Americans Are Warming Up to Facial Recognition Technology, Survey Finds

A research institute found that few Americans want strict limits placed on the application of facial recognition systems.

WASHINGTON, D.C. — A new survey from the Center for Data Innovation found that only about one in four Americans (26%) want government to strictly limit the use of facial recognition technology.

That support drops to fewer than one in five (18%) if it would come at the cost of public safety, according to survey results.

Similarly, only 20% of survey participants support limiting the use of facial recognition if it would mean airports can’t use the technology to speed up security lines. Just 24% want limits if it would keep stores from using the technology to stop shoplifting.

“People are often suspicious of new technologies, but in this case, they seem to have warmed up to facial recognition technology quite quickly,” says the center’s director, Daniel Castro. “Perhaps most importantly, Americans have made it clear they do not want regulations that limit the use of facial recognition if it comes at the cost of public safety.”

The Center for Data Innovation is a non-profit, non-partisan research institute affiliated with the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation. The center’s survey findings were derived from a national online poll of 3,151 U.S. adult Internet users conducted Dec. 13-16.

The survey found that support for police using facial recognition increases depending on the technology’s accuracy: If the software is right 80% of the time, then 39% of respondents agreed with letting police use it while 32% disagreed.

If the software is right 90% of the time, then 47% of respondents agreed with police using it and 25% disagreed. And if the software is right 100% of the time, then 59% agreed with police using it and 16% disagreed.

That finding of support is noteworthy, as the National Institute of Science and Technology (NIST) recently found that just 0.2% of facial recognition database searches failed in 2018, down from 4% in 2014 and 5% in 2010.

“The survey results suggest that one of the most important ways for police to gain public support for using facial recognition technology in their communities is to use the most accurate tools available,” Castro says. “People are willing to get behind police use of facial recognition technology as long as it is accurate and makes their communities safer.”

Detailed survey results are available here.

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