Homeland Security test sees 96% facial recognition success for those wearing face masks

Results from a controlled test from the US' Department of Homeland Security has posted a 96% success rate in facial recognition on those wearing protective face masks.

The tests were conducted as part of S&T’s 2020 Biometric Technology Rally, held this autumn at the Maryland Test Facility, and could reduce the need for people to remove masks at airports or ports of entry.

The third annual rally evaluated the ability of biometric acquisition systems and matching algorithms to reliably collect and match images of individuals wearing a diverse array of face masks. Previous rallies show biometric systems can excel at rapidly processing high volumes of travelers using face recognition. This year’s focused on using such systems to detect and recognise travelers without asking them to remove their masks, thereby protecting both the public and frontline workers during the Covid-19 era.

The in-person event included 10 days of human testing with 60 facial recognition configurations (using six face and/or iris acquisition systems and 10 matching algorithms) and 582 diverse test volunteers representing 60 countries. Acquisition systems were evaluated based on their ability to reliably take images of each volunteer with and without masks, volunteer processing time, and overall volunteer satisfaction.

Early results, released today on the Biometric Rally website, indicate:

  • Without masks, median system performance demonstrated a 93% identification rate, with the best-performing system correctly identifying individuals 100% of the time.
  • With masks, median system performance demonstrated a 77% identification rate, with the best-performing system correctly identifying individuals 96% of the time.
  • Performance can vary greatly between systems.

Based on these results, organisations that need to perform photo ID checks could potentially allow individuals to keep their masks on, thereby reducing the risk of COVID-19 infection.

“This isn’t a perfect 100% solution,” said Arun Vemury, director of S&T’s Biometric and Identity Technology Center, “but 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.”

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