Facial Recognition

Facial recognition is a relatively new biometric that helps police to identify someone.

The INTERPOL Face Recognition System is an automated biometric software application capable of uniquely identifying or verifying a person by comparing and analysing patterns based on their facial features and contours.

This is a relatively new biometric which is being introduced by police and other agencies around the world. As this is still in its infancy in most countries, standards and best practices are still in the process of being created, and INTERPOL is contributing to this.  

Our application became operational in November 2016 and made more than 60 potential matches in 2017.

Factors in facial identification

Unlike fingerprints and DNA, which do not change during a person’s life, facial recognition has to take into account different factors, such as:

  • Ageing
  • Plastic surgery
  • Cosmetics
  • Quality of image
  • Effects of drug abuse or smoking
  • Pose of the subject

We therefore carry out a manual process – we call this Face Identification – to verify the results of the automated system.

How does it work?

When a facial image (probe image) is entered into the system it is automatically encoded by an algorithm which produces a ‘candidate’ list of the most likely matches from those profiles in our system.

The probe image is then manually compared to each of the candidates by qualified and experienced INTERPOL officers who examine the images carefully to find unique characteristics that can lead to a ‘Potential Candidate’, ‘No Candidate’ or ‘Inconclusive’.

This information is then passed onto the countries who provided the image, or who would be concerned by the profile or a match.

Data quality

An accurate and effective face recognition system is reliant on good quality facial images. An ideal photo would be an ICAO standard passport photo, since this is a full frontal image of the subject that has even lighting on the face and a neutral background.

Cross-checking with Notices

All face images in Notice and Diffusion requests from member countries are searched and stored in the face recognition system, providing they meet the strict quality criteria needed for recognition.

Member countries can also request a ‘search only’ of the system, for example, for persons of interest at airports or other border crossings.

Bringing experts together

Held every two years, INTERPOL’s International Fingerprint Symposium provides an opportunity for experts from around the world to share best practice and latest developments.

We also host Face Expert Working Group meetings twice a year. This is a forum for discussing new technology, identification procedures, training needs and for producing official documents to assist member countries with best practices in this science.