Survey: Americans Warming to Use of Facial Recognition Tech


Americans do not favor strict limits on facial recognition technology, according to a new national survey.

A growing number of Americans are OK with the facial recognition technology, especially if it increases public safety, according to a national survey released Monday.

Conducted on a national poll of 3,151 U.S. adults in December, the survey found only one in four Americans believe the federal government should strictly limit the use of facial biometrics technology.

The survey also indicates Americans are more likely to support any apparent tradeoff to their own privacy caused by facial recognition technology if it benefits law enforcement, reduces shoplifting or speeds up airport security lines.

Only 18 percent of those polled said they agreed with strict limitations on facial recognition tech if it comes at the expense of public safety, compared to 55 percent who disagreed with such limitations.

“People are often suspicious of new technologies, but in this case, they seem to have warmed up to facial recognition technology quite quickly,” said Daniel Castro, director of the Center for Data Innovation, a nonprofit, nonpartisan research institute that conducted the survey.

“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,” Castro said.

The findings indicate a potential shift in public thinking.

A September 2018 study by the Brookings Institution found half of Americans favored limitations of the use of facial recognition by law enforcement, while 42 percent felt it invaded personal privacy rights.

Further, Americans appear more comfortable with facial recognition as its accuracy improves. The Center for Data Innovation survey found 59 percent of Americans agree with the use of facial recognition technology if the software is right 100 percent of the time compared to 39 percent who agreed with the technology if it is right 80 percent of the time.

“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,” said Castro. “People are willing to get behind police use of facial recognition technology as long as it is accurate and makes their communities safer.”

Meanwhile, the federal government’s use of facial recognition technologies has itself increased in recent months. In August, the Washington Dulles International Airport became the first U.S. airport to catch an alleged imposter with its new biometric cameras. U.S. Customs and Border Protection has since apprehended 26 alleged imposters at airports as of November and points of entry using the technology.

The FBI, too, is using Amazon’s face-matching tech—Rekognition—in counterterrorism investigations.