Around half of Americans are OK with facial recognition technology

Americans are warming to the idea of facial recognition technology in the interest of public safety, according to a national survey.

A poll of 3,151 adults in December found that Americans are more likely to relinquish their privacy if it benefits law enforcement. 

Facial recognition could help reduce shoplifting and other petty thefts, as well as speeding up airport security lines. 

Fifty five per cent of Americans do not believe that the government should impose strict regulations on the technology.

Only eighteen per cent, or fewer than one in five, believed that there should be strict limitations, however. 

The poll found that only one in four (26%) Americans believe the government should limit the use of the technology, when asked without the public safety factor.

‘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 (CDI), 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,’ Mr Castro said.

The results are in stark contrast to a September 2018 survey which concluded that more than half of Americans agreed to limitations of the use of facial recognition by law enforcement.

As the accuracy of the technology improves, people seem more likely to favour it. 

The CDI poll found that 59 per cent of Americans agree with the tech if it is correct one hundred per cent of the time, while 39 per cent agreed if it worked 80 per cent 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,’ Mr Castro added. 

‘People are willing to get behind police use of facial recognition technology as long as it is accurate and makes their communities safer.’

Critics of facial biometrics technology say that there should be laws and regulations in place for the deployment of facial recognition.

In December 2018, Microsoft president Brad Smith warned that the future vision for facial recognition could turn the world into a surveillance state like that of dystopian novel 1984 by George Orwell.

 ‘An indispensable democratic principle has always been the tenet that no government is above the law,’ Mr Smith said at the time.

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