By: Alex Wasson, Director of Security

Of all the hot-button issues in security and surveillance technology at the moment, few have generated as much controversy as facial recognition. When the technology first emerged several years ago, it seemed destined to be the industry standard before long.

In the time since facial recognition’s promising future has grown a bit murkier.

Cybersecurity breaches of household names like Facebook, Yahoo, Marriott, and others dented public trust in the safety of online databases. Beyond that, an even broader conversation about data privacy took hold: should companies be collecting so much of our personal data in the first place? For people with these sorts of doubts, the idea of having their faces stored for use was uncomfortable at best.

However, for many companies, the advantages of the technology are simply too meaningful to ignore. The ability to check individuals and sift out unwanted visitors or potential threats instantaneously would make many businesses more efficient and safer.

While the controversy certainly isn’t going away anytime soon, signs seem to be pointing toward it being a temporary speedbump for facial recognition, rather than a permanent hindrance.

“Pilot” Programs
American Airlines handed facial recognition a big boost when it rolled out “biometric boarding” at the Dallas/Fort Worth airport last summer. Under this program, customers can opt into having their face scanned to produce an image, which is then instantly matched against a photo of the same individual in a Customs and Border Protection database. This allows the airport to automatically verify the customer’s identity and clear them for boarding.

Biometric boarding addresses two of the chief concerns among skeptics of facial recognition: consent and data retention. Allowing customers to participate (or not) voluntarily avoids the poor optics of scanning or monitoring people without their permission. Automatically discarding the images once a passenger is cleared eases concerns about what happens with customer facial data, and whether or not it is safe.

These common-sense measures go a long way toward establishing trust with a skeptical public. Several other airlines have unveiled similar pilot programs and appear to be experiencing similar success. Delta reported that based on its test program at the Atlanta airport, 72% of its passengers prefer facial recognition scans to the standard boarding process, and only 2% opted out.

JetBlue and British Airways, both early adopters of facial recognition, have been scaling up their biometrics-aided self-boarding platforms for international flights, and do not appear to be slowing down anytime soon. Facial recognition is the future of airline boarding, and other industries are likely to follow.

The Road to Widespread Adoption
Biometric scans are a readymade upgrade on traditional card or keycode-based access control, with schools, commercial office buildings, and healthcare facilities all positioned as likely adopters. The cost per camera may still be a challenge to justify for many would-be users, but this is likely to be less of an issue as the technology continues to advance and become commonplace. In the meantime, the potential applications are compelling enough to be worth considering.

For restricted areas, administrators can apply a whitelist, which only allows individuals with the appropriate clearance to enter. On the other hand, suppose a school is dealing with a parent who is not permitted to be near his or her child due to a restraining order, or a company has reason to believe a disgruntled former employee might seek retribution.

Under these unfortunate circumstances, the threatening individuals could be added to blacklists. If they show up, a facial recognition scan can automatically set off an alert to security or the proper authorities, and if necessary, even trigger a lockdown. This quick response allows for the ability to neutralize threatening situations as quickly as possible, minimizing the risk for both people and property.

Implementation is Key
The benefits are obvious: facial recognition provides a significant efficiency advantage over traditional access control or identity verification, with an added layer of security. The question remains whether this security outweighs the privacy concerns in the mind of the public.

These questions will continue to be asked, which is why it is essential for companies to weigh decisions carefully and deploy technology responsibly with the help of an educated technology provider. Despite some setbacks, facial recognition appears to be heading toward the big moment optimists initially hoped for, and you don’t want to miss out on the benefits when the time comes.