Federal Agencies Can’t Resist Using and Abusing Facial Recognition

Already used to identify international travelers as they enter and exit the United States, facial recognition technology is becoming increasingly reliable and may soon become a regular feature of the travel process, say government researchers. But almost simultaneously come reports of haphazard implementation by federal agencies and real-life horror stories based on flaws in the technology. It all adds up to a cautionary tale about the uses and abuses of surveillance systems that can identify and misidentify members of the public as they go about their lives.

“The most accurate face recognition algorithms have demonstrated the capability to confirm airline passenger identities while making very few errors,” the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) announced this week. “The results indicate that several of the FR algorithms NIST tested could perform the task using a single scan of a passenger’s face with 99.5% accuracy or better — especially if the database contains several images of the passenger.”

One-to-one facial recognition systems, such as those you get while standing still so your image can be matched against a database, have been in-place for international travelers for several years, administered by Customs and Border Protection. NIST’s study went beyond such checkpoint applications to investigate limited one-to-many uses, such as when crowds waiting to board their flights are scanned for the faces of those expected to be there to identify anybody who doesn’t belong.

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Source: Reason, J.D. Tuccille