Japan’s NEC Corp has launched a new facial recognition system that can reportedly identity people even if they are wearing a face mask.

During the Coronavirus pandemic the wearing of facemasks has become mandatory in most countries, but it is worth noting that Japan itself has a long history of mask wearing among its population.

Into this comes the news that NEC now has a facial recognition system that identifies people even when they are wearing masks, Reuters reported.

Facial recognition

NEC is a long established provider of facial recognition (FR) systems, and the Covid-19 pandemic reportedly prompted it to speed up the development of the new FR system.

“Needs grew even more due to the coronavirus situation as the state of emergency (last year) was continuing for a long time, and so we’ve now introduced this technology to the market,” Shinya Takashima, assistant manager of NEC’s digital platform division, told Reuters.

It seems the way this new FR system works when part of a person’s face is obscured, by honing in on the parts that are not covered up, such as the eyes and surrounding areas, to verify the subject’s identity.

Users reportedly register a photo of their face in advance, and the new system takes less one second to verify a masked person, Reuters reported. And it does so with an accuracy rate of more than 99.9 percent.

It is reported that the system can be used at security gates in office buildings and other facilities.

NEC is also reportedly trialling the technology for automated payments at an unmanned convenience store in its Tokyo headquarters.

The new system reportedly went on sale in October and customers include Lufthansa and Swiss International Airlines, Takashima was quoted as saying.

No touching

And the NEC executive said that FR systems are an ideal verification system during a pandemic, as people do not need to touch any surfaces in order to be identified.

Facial recognition means not having to produce a security card, which can be be lost or stolen, and also helps prevent the spread of germs from touching surfaces, Takashima said.

“Touchless verification has become extremely important due to the impact of the coronavirus,” he said. “Going forward we hope to contribute to safety and peace of mind by strengthening (efforts) in that area.”

And the arrival of this system has drawn attention from security professionals.

“As facial recognition becomes more advanced, so too does the possibility of attacks,” said Jake Moore, cybersecurity specialist at ESET. “The benefits of being able to use facial recognition often sounds beneficial to law enforcement, but it can be damming to our privacy.

“Technology often has a way of advancing just for the sake of proving it can be done, without a second thought to the possible repercussions – in this case, the potential for people to be tracked and for the data collected to be abused,” said Moore. “If such databases were to be hacked, threat actors have the potential of extorting targeted victims with relative ease.”

Tom Jowitt

Tom Jowitt is a leading British tech freelancer and long standing contributor to Silicon UK. He is also a bit of a Lord of the Rings nut...

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