A new study from the Pew Research Center illuminates a complex picture of how the American public views the use of facial recognition by police. The study is the result of a poll of 10,260 adults in November of 2021.
One striking result is the indication that a plurality of Americans agree that widespread use of facial recognition by police is a good idea. Forty-six percent were in support, while 27 percent said that it would be a bad idea, and 27 percent said they weren’t sure.
Age appears to be an important factor in such beliefs, with a majority of respondents over 50 agreeing that such use of facial recognition is a good idea. Of those under 30, 42 percent said it’s a bad idea, compared to 35 percent in favor.
Political affiliation, meanwhile, doesn’t seem to be a major factor; 25 percent of respondents who lean Republican and 30 percent of respondents who lean Democrat called the police use of facial recognition a bad idea, while 48 percent and 43 percent, respectively, thought otherwise.
A majority, meanwhile, don’t think the widespread use of facial recognition would do much to prevent crime. About 57 percent said they would expect crime rates to stay the same, though 33 percent would expect a decrease in crime.
Asked about some of the specific benefits and risks entailed in widespread use of facial recognition by police, respondents appeared ambivalent. On the one hand, solid majorities indicated that they believe it would help the police to find more missing persons (78 percent) and solve crimes more quickly and efficiently (74 percent); but a majority of 66 percent believe that it would also lead to a discriminatory level of surveillance of Black and Hispanic neighborhoods, and 53 percent believe it will lead to more false arrests.
The survey also detected some nuanced perspectives on the tension between surveillance and privacy. About six in 10 respondents felt that it’s acceptable to use facial recognition to scan crowds as they enter large venues such as concerts and even to scan crowds in public protests, but even more respondents – 68 percent – said that it wouldn’t be acceptable to scan people as they simply walk down the street.
The complexity and ambivalence of many of the responses to Pew’s survey further illustrate that how police should use facial recognition technology is very much a live debate, with various legal battles and legislative changes unfolding across the country. And given that it appears the issue hasn’t yet sorted through America’s partisan filter, the debate may still be in its earliest stages.
Mar. 21, 2022 – by Alex Perala