The U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Science and Technology Directorate (S&T) recently tested facial recognition technology to identify individuals wearing protective face masks with up to 96% accuracy.

The tests were conducted as part of S&T’s 2020 Biometric Technology Rally, held this fall 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 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 recognize 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.

“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.”

Final test results from the 2020 Biometric Technology Rally are expected in the coming weeks.

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