Poll: Facial recognition technology gaining acceptance

So how do you feel about the government using facial recognition technology? I don’t think I’ve ever written a single column on this subject without plenty of folks – particularly libertarians – getting up in arms over it. You see so many articles screaming about digital privacy that it’s easy to believe that the concept is almost universally shunned. But what if they told you that it would get you through the airport and to the gate more quickly?

Ah, suddenly there’s a motivating factor. And a recent survey highlighted at NextGov seems to indicate that opposition to this technology is actually a minority opinion.

One in three Americans do not support the government using facial recognition to boost security and speed at airports—but most do—according to a new study from travel booking site Reservations.com.

The Homeland Security Department has been rolling out the emerging tech at airports across the nation through its Biometric Exit program and a recently unveiled plan to implement facial recognition technology on almost all departing air passengers by 2023.

“Since facial recognition technology has rapidly expanded in airports the last few years, we wanted to get perspectives on the growing use of the technology,” Joseph Robison, a representative of Reservations.com told Nextgov. “We conducted this survey because we’re interested in keeping a pulse on travelers’ experiences and frustrations.”

So it breaks down with 32.5% opposing facial recognition and 42% supporting it. Almost 25% said they had no opinion either way. But it’s worth noting the wording of the question that was asked in the poll. “Agree or disagree: I’m ok with the government using facial recognition technology at airports to improve security and boarding speed.”

They’re making an important distinction here because they’re not just asking about the use of the technology in general. They’re asking people about a specific use at airports with the intended results of more readily spotting terrorists while speeding up your passage through TSA. That’s some serious incentive to at least consider it.

I’d be interested to see how the results would play out if they asked about the same sort of cameras and software being placed in the public square, with local, municipal and state police having access to it. Perhaps there’s more support there than I would have imagined, but I still have to think it would be a lower number. And it’s not as if there aren’t still problems with these algorithms. As we’ve noted here multiple times, Amazon’s version (Rekognition) did horribly in independent testing, only being able to correctly identify white males on a regular basis.

Still, when it comes to airports and the TSA, I don’t think we’ll wind up having much say in the matter. Plans are already in place and the government has a target of having facial recognition software in use at all American airports within five years. So it’s probably a case of either getting used to it or giving up on flying.