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Why should we care about facial recognition in 2021?

Facial recognition technology is not without controversy. Headlines have been made around the world over the misuse of facial recognition technology and the possible infringement on privacy and civil rights.

Some States in the USA have gone as far as banning facial recognition and the anti-surveillance ordinance signed by San Francisco’s Board of Supervisors bars city agencies, including San Francisco PD, from using the technology as of June 2019.

However, for all the negative press around the misuse of facial recognition technologies, there are countless case studies showcasing the positive outcomes that can be achieved by using facial recognition technology and as we move through 2021 and beyond, we can expect facial recognition to become more immersive in our day to day lives as we battle to overcome the COVID-19 pandemic around the world.

Before we take a deeper dive into why we should care about facial recognition in 2021 and beyond, let’s first take a look at what exactly is facial recognition and what is it used for.

What is facial recognition?

Facial recognition is becoming an ever-present part of our lives in a variety of different ways. Technology has developed to a point where what was once only seen in the movies is now very much a reality. From instantaneously unlocking our mobile phones to facial recognition processing at passport control – we can now be identified via our faces with incredible precision and accuracy.

Facial recognition is a frictionless biometric that can be integrated into a multimodal approach utilising other biometrics or additional security tokens to provide even greater and faster authentication. The fact that facial images can be captured from a distance without touching the person being identified offers distinct advantages over other biometrics systems for certain applications.

First developed in the 1960s, it was not until 1997 that we saw the first commercial application of facial recognition technology. Read more about the history of facial recognition.

Practical Applications of Facial Recognition Technology

Security solutions still dominate the primary applications of facial recognition technology. Proving people are who they say they are crosses a diverse range of industries and facial recognition is recognised as one of the most accurate and convenient methods. The fact that facial recognition is frictionless and can be performed from distance brings distinct advantages over other possible biometric security solutions.

Some of the industries that are using NEC’s facial recognition include:

Police and Public Safety – using facial recognition, police and security agencies can process videos and images from multiple sources, including body-worn, mobile and in-vehicle cameras, to quickly and effectively identify persons of interest in real-time and to speed up investigations. 

Aviation & Transport – facial recognition provides fast, accurate identity verification through every phase of the passenger journey at check-in, baggage drop, security screening, retail purchases and boarding lines. After arrival, facial recognition software makes the immigration process and baggage pickup frictionless and less stressful. 

Stadium Events – facial recognition is used to monitor ticketing and security checks to ensure optimal service levels as well as detecting persons of concern, with automated alerts to security staff on the ground.

Retail – facial recognition is used in the retail sector to speed up fraud and theft investigations and process video from multiple sources to identify persons of interest. In addition, it is used to identify customers in a loyalty programme and deliver personalised levels of service, as well as speed up the in-store payment process resulting in an improved customer experience.

Gaming – within the gaming sector, facial recognition is used to detect problem gamblers in real-time to alert security and help minimise further harm related to problem gambling.  It is also used to identify VIPs and ‘high rollers’, to deliver a high level of customer service and ensure the continued enjoyment of all customers.

Hospitality – within the hospitality industry, we are already seeing the adoption of facial recognition to prioritise high value customers and loyalty members, facilitate queue management through automating check-in/check-out processes and understanding customer preferences.

Why should we care about facial recognition in 2021 and beyond?

Whilst it is clear that there is still some push back with regards to facial recognition, there is no doubt that it is a technology that will be adopted across more and more sectors.

One of the main reasons is a need to embrace contactless solutions in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. From international travel to access and authentication, businesses are looking at ways to keep their staff and customers safe and reducing the number of touch points an individual must make on a day to day basis is one way that businesses are helping to tackle the spread of COVID-19 and potentially other viruses that can be passed by close contact.


One of the sectors already embracing facial recognition in 2021 is the travel industry and this is an industry that will be forced to look at new solutions in order to help to facilitate a return to global travel for people around the world.

For many of us, taking a flight, especially an overseas flight feels like a distant memory, however, with vaccination programmes rolling out around the world, airports and airlines are already planning for a time when passengers will be welcomed back once more and facial recognition is playing an important role in facilitating both a seamless and contactless experience from curb to gate.

Read our recent case study and find out more about how the travel industry is tackling the air travel experience post-COVID.

Of course, it’s not just airports and airlines that are turning to facial recognition. The transit sector – including trains and buses – will also need to look at opportunities to return customers to a safer way of travelling and facial recognition can once again help to facilitate this, removing the need for travel passes and instead, using facial recognition as a unique biometric identifier which acts as your ticket.


Even pre-COVID, the retail sector was already looking at ways in which facial recognition could help to provide a better customer experience, both in stores and online. Now, there is an even great need to look at the potential use cases for facial recognition within the retail sector as businesses also look to reduce contact points and make the process of purchasing items more seamless.

Within the retail space, we can also expect pay by face to be rolled out over the next few years, enabling customers to make payments simply by presenting their face to a special terminal.  Facial recognition is also used within the retail sector to speed up fraud and theft investigations as well as improving loyalty programmes and in-store marketing activity, helping to deliver personalised customer experiences.

Public safety

Law enforcement is one of the key industries we work with at NEC and the use of facial recognition technology is already allowing police and security agencies to process videos and images from multiple sources, including body-worn, mobile, and in-vehicle cameras to identify persons of interest quickly and effectively in real-time to speed up investigations. As we move through 2021 and beyond, we can expect to see more sophisticated uses of facial recognition within the law enforcement sector, helping to improve public safety and reduce crime around the world.

NEC and facial recognition

Currently, NEC’s face recognition is independently recognised as the fastest and most accurate face recognition software in the market. NEC’s NeoFace® Watch was ranked top in Face In Video Evaluation (FIVE) of Non-Cooperative Subjects 2017, Face Recognition Vendor Test (FRVT) 2013, Multiple-Biometric Evaluation (MBE) 2010 and Multiple Biometric Grand Challenge (MBGC) 2009, independent tests conducted by the internationally renowned US National Institute of Standards & Technology (NIST) and peer reviewed by the scientific community.  

The tests position NEC’s face recognition software as the most accurate face recognition software even with low-quality images. Independent tests also demonstrate NEC provides the fastest matching capability most resistant to variants in angle, age and race. 

This doesn’t mean we are resting on our laurels – R&D continues to improve both the speed and accuracy of our facial recognition software whilst keeping security at the forefront of our developments. 

The world is which we live is definitely changing and facial recognition will become an integral part of our day to day actions if it isn’t already.  

Related Posts

Which biometric authentication method is most secure?

5 most common uses of facial recognition

Seamless travel – how facial recognition is revolutionising travel and security

Identification and payments at a distance: touchless and contactless experiences in a post-COVID-19 world


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