Government Facial Recognition Can Identify 96 Percent of Masked People

Eye Contact

A powerful new facial recognition system can recognize and identify people 96 percent of the time — even when they’re wearing a mask to protect against the coronavirus.

When the pandemic really took hold, it became clear that the facial recognition systems already on the market weren’t up to the challenge of identifying people who covered the bottom half of their head with a face mask. But now, Business Insider reports, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) seems to have cracked the problem with a system simply dubbed “West.”


It goes without saying that the new system capable of identifying people with covered faces is a controversial and concerning development. In this case, the DHS frames the tech as a matter of public safety, as it could theoretically monitor airline passengers without them taking off their protective coverings.

“It may reduce risks for many travelers, as well as the frontline staff working in airports, who no longer have to ask all travelers to remove masks,” Arun Vemury, director of the DHS Science and Technology Directorate’s Biometric and Identity Technology Center, said in a press release.

Step Up

Typical facial recognition systems developed before the pandemic could only recognize 50 to 80 percent of masked people.

BI reports that the DHS was compelled by law to develop an updated facial recognition surveillance system, as the agency is required to maintain a biometric system for passengers on international flights but fingerprinting is too unsanitary and retinal scans were deemed too difficult.

READ MORE: New facial-recognition technology can accurately identify travelers wearing masks 96% of the time, according to a test run by the Department of Homeland Security [Business Insider]

More on facial recognition: Activists Build Facial Recognition to ID Cops Who Hide Their Badges

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