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Pew: Majority OK With Law Enforcement Use of Facial Recognition

A new Pew Research study finds that a majority of adults (56%) trust law enforcement to use facial recognition "responsibly," but advertisers and tech companies? Not so much.

Even more (59%) say they trust law enforcement to use those tools to assess threats in public spaces.

Those results came out the same day that Fight for the Future announced it was ramping up its campaign to ban law enforcement use of the technology.

Related: Groups Join Effort to Ban Facial Recognition Use by Law Enforcement

Only 36% of respondents said they trust technology companies to use it responsibly, and only 18% trust advertisers.

But there are definitely racial and political divides over the issue. While 61% of whites trust law enforcement with that tool, only 43% of blacks do. A strong majority--65%--of Republicans and Republican "leaners" trust law enforcement with the tech, while only 51% of Democrats and Democratic leaners say so.

Age is also a big dividing line. Three quarters (76%) of those 65-plus trust law enforcement with the tool, while only 42% of 18-29-year-olds do.

And while there have been issues with the accuracy of facial recognition, a majority of respondents said they think it can effectively identify individuals as well as classify them by race and gender.

"Despite some well-publicized examples in which facial recognition technologies have misidentified individual people or struggled to recognize certain types of faces, most Americans consider these tools to be relatively effective," said Pew.

The survey was based on responses from 4,272 U.S. adults. The poll was conducted June 3-17. It has a margin of error of plus-or-minus 1.9 percentage points.

"To me this underscores the urgent need to educate people about the dangers of facial recognition and the ways it's being used by authoritarian governments to crack down on minorities, political dissidents, etc.," said Evan Greer, deputy director of Fight for the Future. "Surveillance is always an uphill battle because people are easily convinced by arguments around public safety, but there is zero evidence that suggests facial recognition or biometric surveillance makes us safer."

"[T]he poll sort of shows its own flaws. When you ask people about specific uses (i.e., tracking who goes in and out of an apartment building) people don't like it," she said. "But that's exactly the type of thing law enforcement will do with this technology. So when people say they support law enforcement use, they're clearly not grasping the way it will be used."