- Only 26% of Americans want the government to "strictly limit" facial recognition technology, with support weakening even more if government limits restrict public safety, according to a new poll from nonprofit research institute Center for Data Innovation.
- Fewer than one in five respondents (18%) supported limits on facial recognition technology "even if it comes at the expense of public safety," compared to 55% who disagreed with that sentiment. Respondents also indicated support for laxer rules if it helped stores limit shoplifting and helped airports speed up security lines.
- Support for law enforcement using facial recognition to catch suspects was less enthusiastic, but rose as the hypothetical accuracy increased. If the technology was right 80% of the time, 39% of respondents agreed with using it; support rose to 59% if the technology was right 100% of the time.
Companies and governments have expanded the use of facial recognition technology in fields ranging from security to shopping. Amazon has marked its controversial Rekognition technology, which can identify faces in a crowd, to law enforcement agencies around the country, with Orlando picking up a second Rekognition pilot in the fall. The Department of Homeland Security has used similar technology to identify visitors who have overstayed their visas.
For all the convenience offered, facial recognition technology remains controversial, with privacy issues and concerns about how widespread use could impact minority communities. Eight Democratic lawmakers penned a letter in December raising "serious concerns" with Rekognition, and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has said it is "primed for abuse in the hands of governments." That has required the governments running pilots to tread carefully; Orlando has said Rekognition will only be used on police officers that had volunteered. The U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) has laid out rules on how long photos of airport users are preserved in response to privacy concerns.
As NextGov notes, the new survey results — based on an online poll of 3,151 adults in December — indicate growing support for the new technology. A September 2018 study from the Brookings Institution indicated stronger support for restrictions, with 69% of respondents saying the government should limit the technology "somewhat" or "very much." Additionally, 50% of respondents said there should be restrictions on law enforcement applications in the September survey. As more technology finds its way to the market, public opinion could continue to change, although political pressure is unlikely to let up.