By Don Erickson
April 24, 2020 at 5:00 am ET
The COVID-19 pandemic has touched everyone across the globe in different ways, and our entire nation has been inspired by first responders, health care professionals and other essential workers on the front lines every day.
And as social distancing has been implemented to limit human interaction and prevent the spread of the deadly disease, the world is now clamoring for “touchless” interactions, both to protect ourselves and to protect the workforce still out there. Already, we’ve heard remarks on how handshakes will be a remnant of the past, and as companies adjust to limit human interaction – including through videoconferencing and contactless food delivery – we are entering a new world where our everyday practices have shifted to ensure we have a cleaner, healthier existence.
As the world moves forward in this new reality, biometric and facial matching technology offer clean and touchless alternatives across a multitude of sectors including health care, securing critical infrastructure and travel – and we are already seeing how this technology is being implemented across the United States.
With hospitals on the forefront of the current crisis, there is considerable opportunity to use facial matching technology for access control to help ensure security and safety. Many hospitals have already implemented facial recognition to eliminate the need for front-line healthcare workers to swipe badges or type in codes to verify their credentials. By simply showing their face, they are allowed access to clean rooms and other secure facilities. Reducing contact with potentially contaminated surfaces is key at a time when staff must be on high alert around the spread of germs and disease.
Such technologies also can perform dual security and hygienic functions in more common settings as well, providing touchless access to virtually any workspace. This includes critical infrastructure facilities, where facial recognition can quickly and accurately verify the identity of an employee at a nuclear facility or the Pentagon, for instance, giving an added layer of hygienic security, as opposed to handing over a pass card or touching a fingerprint scanner.
COVID-19 has also significantly impacted travel, in part through passengers’ concern over possible exposure to germs through the human interaction required when traveling, including the exchange of documents through security and onto the plane. The implementation of facial matching technology begins to eliminate this need. U.S. Customs and Border Protection has already begun to implement biometrics and facial recognition technology as passengers go through customs, and Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson Airport uses facial recognition technology to provide touchless security and allow some international travelers to board flights without exchanging a boarding pass.
The greater use of facial matching technology at Transportation Security Administration checkpoints helps not just passengers, but also the TSA workforce, by putting a step between the passenger and the agent. The use of facial matching technology at airports is not just a cleaner option for both travelers and airport officials, but also modern versions of facial matching technology are extremely accurate and can vastly improve transportation security networks by instantly identifying unwanted or dangerous passengers.
The National Institute of Standards and Technology concluded that the facial recognition software it tests is 20 times better at searching a database to find a matching picture than it was in 2014, and a 2019 NIST report recorded “close to perfect” results by high-performing algorithms, with miss rates averaging just 0.1 percent.
As we navigate new norms for work, health care and travel, biometrics and facial matching technology offers ready solutions to many of the challenges we now face, and the Security Industry Association and its member companies are already working on providing solutions to help ensure that life and commerce can resume as quickly as possible.
Don Erickson is the CEO of the Security Industry Association.
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