Facial Recognition Tech Finds Public Support in Industry Survey

  • Survey finds most accept general, police use of the technology
  • Congressional efforts to ban government use largely stalled

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A majority of U.S. adults view facial recognition technology favorably and support its use by law enforcement, according to a survey from the industry.

The survey shows a broad acceptance of the surveillance technology in various use cases, including at airports and by police officers. It was sponsored by the Security Industry Association, which represents large facial recognition companies like NEC Corp., Clearview AI and IDEMIA. The findings stand in contrast to calls by Democrats and social justice advocates to ban law enforcement use of the technology over accuracy and bias concerns.

The association plans to share the survey results with lawmakers, according to Jake Parker, SIA’s senior director of government relations.

“I think the results show these calls for completely banning the technology or even strictly limiting it are clearly out of step with what Americans believe, and there is a role for public opinion in these polices being developed,” Parker said in a phone interview.

Facial recognition technology uses an image analysis tool to compare facial features with a database to help verify a person’s identity. The technology is being widely deployed in public settings with limited government regulation, as current congressional legislative efforts have stalled—particularly on a long-sought-after bipartisan House Oversight and Reform Committee bill. A spokeswoman from the panel majority did not respond to a request for comment.

Congressional Efforts

Rep. Jimmy Gomez (D-Calif.), a member of the Oversight and Reform panel, is developing legislation he plans to introduce before the year’s end, Eric Harris, Gomez’s communications director, said in an email. The measure would set a moratorium on the technology until a national standard and certification process is established, Harris said.

Facial-Recognition Backlash Brews After Fury Over Police Conduct

Democratic bills (H.R. 7356 and S. 4084) introduced in June by Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.) and Sens. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) and Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) aim to ban government use of facial recognition technology. But movement this year is unlikely given the waning congressional schedule.

A hearing could be held on the topic this year, but more movement is expected in the 117th Congress, given that timeliness of the “fight for racial justice and the clear need to make transformational changes to law enforcement,” said Chris Evans, a spokesperson for Jaypal.

Race Concerns

The survey found that 60% of adults have a favorable view of the technology and 70% support its use by law enforcement. Additionally, 70% felt the technology could accurately identify people of all racial and ethnic identities, and 64% thought the technology would be more accurate than eye-witnesses testimony in identifying criminal suspects, according to the unpublished survey results provided to Bloomberg Government.

Facial Recognition Lobby Urges Caution on U.S. Zeal to Regulate

The results are in line with a June 2019 Pew Research Center poll that found the majority of respondents trusted law enforcement’s use of the technology.

The technology’s ability to accurately identify racial and ethnic identities has been a particular area of concern for groups such as the American Civil Liberties Union. A National Institute of Standards and Technology report from 2019 found higher rates of false positives when the technology was used on Asian and Black populations as compared to Caucasian populations.

Michael King, an associate professor in the Department of Computer Engineering and Sciences at the Florida Institute of Technology, said that while he doesn’t support a law enforcement ban on use of the technology, he would like to see a more detailed survey broken down by racial identity.

“It would be interesting to know if you’d find that same level of acceptance among the demographic groups that are most likely to be adversely affected by false identifications,” he said in an email. “If I were forced to offer an opinion, I don’t believe the support would be that high.”

The SIA survey, conducted by Schoen Cooperman Research in August, included a demographically representative sample of 1,000 U.S. adults nationwide 18 years and older, Douglas Schoen, founder of the firm and long-time Democratic campaign consultant, said in an phone interview. The respondents were 69% Caucasian,12% African American, 9% Hispanic, 8% Asian and 2% “other,” according to the survey data.

To contact the reporter on this story: Rebecca Kern in Washington at rkern@bgov.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Zachary Sherwood at zsherwood@bgov.com; Michaela Ross at mross@bgov.com

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