Trust in police facial recognition higher among older white Republicans, say researchers

Younger Americans aren't so sure, according to a study by the Pew Research Center.

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Rae Hodge was a senior editor at CNET. She led CNET's coverage of privacy and cybersecurity tools from July 2019 to January 2023. As a data-driven investigative journalist on the software and services team, she reviewed VPNs, password managers, antivirus software, anti-surveillance methods and ethics in tech. Prior to joining CNET in 2019, Rae spent nearly a decade covering politics and protests for the AP, NPR, the BBC and other local and international outlets.
Rae Hodge
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Gaps among those who trust police with facial recognition technology fall on racial, political and age lines, says a Pew study.

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Despite law enforcement agencies being repeatedly criticized over unauthorized surveillance of random civilians, more than half of US adults surveyed by Pew Research Center said they trust law enforcement to use facial recognition technology responsibly. Even more people said it's acceptable for police to use facial recognition in public spaces. Those most likely to express trust were older, white Republicans, Pew said in a June study released Thursday.

Facial recognition technology has come under fire from state and local governments, with new bans on the technology emerging in California cities. The US House of Representatives has also pushed back on government use of the technology. But 56% of the total 4,272 surveyed adults told Pew they trust law enforcement "somewhat" with the technology, and 17% trust the agencies "a great deal."

Read: The best facial recognition cameras of 2019    

"Roughly six in 10 whites trust law enforcement agencies to use facial recognition tools, but that share falls to 43% among blacks (an 18 percentage point difference)," the report says. "Comparable gaps in trust exist between 18- to 29-year-olds and those aged 65 and older, as well as between Democrats (including political independents who lean toward the Democratic Party) and Republicans and Republican leaners."

Similar trends were seen among respondents who were asked whether it's acceptable for law enforcement to use facial recognition technology in public spaces. 64% of whites said it was acceptable, compared with 47% of blacks and 55% of Hispanics. More Republicans than Democrats said it was acceptable. Less than half of 18- to-29-year-olds said it was acceptable. 

One thing unified the respondents: They all trusted technology and advertising companies even less than police.

Watch this: Backlash grows for police use of facial recognition (The 3:59, Ep. 562)