By Mohammed Murad

As organizations seek contactless solutions for access control, time and attendance and other ID verification needs, the question many ask is, which technology is the most accurate?

The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) recently shed some light on the subject. A preliminary NIST survey released this week found that wearing face masks, common during the COVID-19 pandemic, may significantly impact the accuracy of facial recognition systems.

A test of 89 commercial facial recognition algorithms found digitally applying a face mask to a face resulted in error rates from 5% to 50% when matching photos of the same person without a mask.

“With the arrival of the pandemic, we need to understand how face recognition technology deals with masked faces,” said Mei Ngan, a NIST computer scientist and an author of the report. “We have begun by focusing on how an algorithm developed before the pandemic might be affected by subjects wearing face masks.”

NIST digitally applied nine masks, including differences in size, shape, color and nose coverage. The algorithms performed better with round masks. Black masks tended to lower performance as compared to surgical blue facial coverings. Accuracy also suffered when more of a person’s nose was covered.

Ngan did add that none of the algorithms were designed to accommodate face masks and that the masks used in the test were digital, not real. She said future tests would look at algorithms designed with masks in mind.

“With respect to accuracy with face masks, we expect the technology to continue to improve,” Ngan said. “But the data we’ve taken so far underscores one of the ideas common to previous tests: Individual algorithms perform differently. Users should get to know the algorithm they are using thoroughly and test its performance in their own work environment.”

Another solution is to choose an iris-based biometric solution that is not affected by personal protective equipment such as gloves, masks and goggles. There’s no reason for accuracy and security to suffer during a pandemic.

Visit our website for more information on how our iris-based solutions compare with other biometric choices.

(Mohammed Murad is vice president global sales and business development)