Survey: Americans Trust Law Enforcement More Than Private Companies To Use Facial Recognition ‘Responsibly’
Fifty-six of American adults say they trust law enforcement agencies to use the tech responsibly, but attitudes varied widely across demographic groups.
- By Haley Samsel
- Sep 09, 2019
As facial recognition systems become more common among law enforcement and security professionals, a majority of Americans say they trust police to use the technology responsibly, according to a survey conducted by the Pew Research Center.
The survey results, released Thursday, found that 56 percent of American adults say they trust law enforcement “somewhat” or “a great deal” to use facial recognition responsibly. Another 59 percent said that it is acceptable for law enforcement to use facial recognition to assess security threats in public spaces.
Attitudes about facial recognition varied widely across demographic groups in the survey, which was conducted in June. Black adults, younger people and those who identify as Democrats were much less likely to trust law enforcement to use the technology responsibly.
Indeed, Democratic lawmakers and activist groups on the left have been sounding the alarm about the lack of federal regulation of facial recognition in recent months. Three members of the House, all Democrats, introduced a bill earlier this year that would ban the use of facial recognition and biometric controls at federally funded public housing.
Aaron Smith, the director of Data Labs for the Pew Research Center, told Fortune that the divide in responses can be explained by how willing Americans are to “give up elements of their privacy and civil liberty” if it can protect communities from terrorist attacks or violent crime.
“People’s perceptions [about facial recognition] map closely to their views about law enforcement and their trust in law enforcement more broadly,” Smith said.
Read More: British Court Rules in Favor of Police In Unprecedented Facial Recognition Case
Survey participants were much less enthusiastic about other uses of facial recognition tools, particularly by private companies. Only 36 percent said they trusted technology companies to use the technology responsibly. Advertisers received an even smaller vote of confidence with 18 percent.
The survey also found a striking awareness of facial recognition among American adults. Only 13 percent of respondents said they had heard “nothing at all” about the software, and 61 percent said they had heard “a little” about it. Twenty-five percent said they had heard about it “a lot.”
While there have been several studies and reports on issues with facial recognition technology’s ability to accurately identify people of color and women, majorities of Americans said they believe the tech can effectively identify individual people. Nearly three-quarters of adults told Pew that they think the tool is at least “somewhat” effective at accurately identifying individuals. Of that percentage, 21 percent said that the tech was “very” effective.
“I would say people’s awareness of the technology overall is fairly broad but relatively shallow,” Smith said.
The survey also asked respondents to decide if facial recognition would be acceptable or unacceptable in specific scenarios, including the possibility of apartment landlords using the tech to track who enters or leaves their buildings. Americans were most opposed to the use of facial recognition by advertisers seeking to find out how people respond to public ad displays, with 54 percent saying it would be “unacceptable.”