We asked the British public about the following uses of facial recognition technologies: its use for unlocking mobile phones, for policing and surveillance and facial recognition use at border control.
Most of the British public feel speed is the main benefit offered by facial recognition technologies. Over half, 61%, of people say ‘it is faster to unlock a phone or personal device’ in relation to phone unlocking, 77% say ‘the technology will make it faster and easier to identify wanted criminals and missing persons’ in relation to policing and surveillance and 70% identify ‘processing people at border control will be faster’ as a benefit in relation to border control.
Table 3: Most commonly selected benefits for facial recognition technologies
‘Which of the following, if any, are ways you think the use of this technology will be beneficial?’
|Facial recognition for border control||1 Faster||70%|
|2 More accurate than professionals||50%|
|3 Save money||42%|
|Facial recongition for unlocking phones||1 Faster||61%|
|2 Security of personal information||53%|
|3 None of these||8%|
|Facial recognition for policing||1 Faster and easier||77%|
|2 More accurate than professionals||55%|
|3 Save money||46%|
Although half of the public perceive accuracy to be a substantial benefit of these technologies, half have concerns around these technologies making mistakes. On the one hand, the technology being more accurate than professionals is the second most selected benefit for the use of facial recognition in policing and surveillance (chosen by 55% of people) and the use of facial recognition at border control (chosen by 50% of people). On the other hand, the most commonly selected concern for policing and surveillance is false accusations (54% of people worry that ‘if the technology makes a mistake it will lead to innocent people being wrongly accused’); while for border control, the most selected concern is related to accountability (‘if the technology makes a mistake, it will be difficult to know who is responsible for what went wrong’).
Therefore, while speed is seen by a majority as a benefit, there are a range of concerns that are mentioned by approximately half of people over the use of facial recognition for border control and police surveillance. A survey conducted by the Ada Lovelace Institute in 2019 found that a majority supported facial recognition technology when there was a demonstrable public benefit and appropriate safeguards in place.
Very few people identify concerns about the use of facial recognition in policing, surveillance and border control as discriminatory technologies. However, there may be socio-demographic differences around these concerns. The responses suggest that Black people, students and those with no formal qualifications might be more concerned about the discriminatory potential of these technologies.
However, it is important to note that our sample sizes for various subgroups are too small to be statistically significant, and we need to follow up these indicative findings through other research methods. More research is also needed to understand the lived experiences of different groups and concerns about how these technologies can impact, or can be perceived to impact, people in different ways.
Table 4: Most commonly selected concerns for facial recognition technologies
‘Which of the following, if any, are concerns that you have about the use of this technology?’
|Facial recognition for border control||1 Job cuts||47%|
|2 Accountability for mistakes||47%|
|3 Unreliable and cause delays||44%|
|Facial recognition for unlocking phones||1 Difficult to use||41%|
|2 Share personal information||40%|
|3 Less effective for some||33%|
|Facial recognition for policing||1 False accusations||54%|
|2 Accountability for mistakes||48%|
|3 Overreliance on technology||46%|