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7 Jan, 2021 09:24

The grim ‘New Normal’: Japanese firm unveils new facial recognition system that can identify people THROUGH their masks

The grim ‘New Normal’: Japanese firm unveils new facial recognition system that can identify people THROUGH their masks

Japan's NEC Corp has unveiled a facial recognition system which can verify a person’s identity even when they are masked, in a move which it claims will boost “the revival of economic activities under the ‘New Normal.’"

The company claims the system was originally designed to meet the needs of people with allergies, as mask-wearing was common in Japan prior to the coronavirus pandemic, but it took on more significance as 2020 unfolded. 

“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, said.


The system focuses on the uncovered parts of a person's head, including the eyes and cheekbone areas, to verify someone’s identity when compared against a registry of faces. In order for it to work, people must submit a photo in advance of using the system.

The technology firm claims that verification takes less than one second and boasts a reported accuracy rate of over 99.9 percent.

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The system affords non-contact, mask-worn access through security gates at multiple facilities, and the company is also trialing its use in automated payments at a small number of convenience stores at the NEC headquarters. 

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

The system, which is also combined with thermal imaging cameras at walkthrough gates, ostensibly protects people by not forcing them to remove their masks to gain entry, while also precluding them from needing a security pass card or from touching any surfaces and potentially coming into contact with germs and pathogens.

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NEC Corp has yet to disclose the price for the system, which is sure to raise eyebrows among privacy advocates across the world, but customers already include Lufthansa and Swiss International Airlines, who began using the identity verification platform in December at Frankfurt Airport and Munich Airport under the name ‘Star Alliance Biometrics’.

Passengers must register their face images and passport information using mobile apps from each company in advance of arrival at the airports.

NEC Corp claims that customer names are not saved, but the facial images and personal information of passengers are encoded and safely stored on its platform.

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