Facial Identification Scientific Working Group

Frequently Asked Questions

1. What is automated facial recognition and how is it used?

Automated facial recognition is the process of submitting an image containing a face into a computer software program to compare against a stored face(s). It can be used in multiple ways:

● Public/Private Sector – Automated facial recognition is used to verify an individual against their stored face(s) or a small gallery of faces for access (e.g., smartphone, automated teller machine, frequent traveler, building access).

● Public Safety/Government – Automated facial recognition is used to search a biometric database and produce a computer-generated candidate list of facial images for further processing (e.g., identity/travel document issuance, processing, or verification, searching unknown faces to aid an investigation).

2. What does “lights-out” mean in a facial recognition system?

The term “lights-out” means a facial recognition non-human process or workflow which is completely automated.

3. What is facial image comparison?

Facial image comparison describes the manual process of evaluating similarities and dissimilarities between (a.) two (or more) facial images. or (b.) facial image(s) and a subject for the purpose of determining if they represent the same person or a different person.

4. Are all facial image comparison processes the same?

No, there are several types of facial image comparison processes:

● Facial Assessment generally involves a superficial, often rapid, one-to-one comparison process of a facial image to a live subject for the purpose of identity verification (e.g., border crossing or police traffic stop).

● Facial Review involves a more complex comparison process conducted between an image and a subject or between sets of images.

● Facial Examination is the formal, systematic process (e.g., Analysis, Comparison, Evaluation - Verification [ACE-V]) by which two or more face images are compared. This may be an intensive process that can reach the level of a forensic analysis.

5. With the advancements in facial recognition technology, why do we need humans in the comparison process?

Automated facial recognition technology relies on a computer-generated candidate list which may not recognize details humans can perceive (e.g., changes in pose, expression, age, etc.), leading to images of the same person scoring weakly or different people scoring strongly. A human is therefore necessary to make the comparison of the images and come to a decision.

6. Why are some image comparisons determined to be inconclusive?

Comparisons are conducted based on the quality and quantity of details in the image(s) provided. In many cases there is not enough detailed visual information to make a definitive conclusion.

7. How long does a facial image comparison process take?

Depending on the quality of the image(s), the type of the comparison, agency procedures, and experience of the individual, the time required ranges from minutes to hours.

8. What is the recommended method for facial examinations?

The Facial Identification Scientific Working Group (FISWG) recommends Morphological Analysis as the primary method for facial review and examination. Morphological Analysis is an intensive, systematic process of image comparison in which the features of the face are described and compared, and conclusions regarding similarity or difference are based on subjective observations and evaluations. For more information on the Morphological Analysis see

9. Who is conducting facial image comparisons?

Facial image comparisons are generally performed by individuals working within law enforcement, government, national defense, and academic institutions for research purposes.

10. Is there a certification for facial image comparison?

At this time, no public certification programs for facial image comparison exist. However, the International Association for Identification (IAI) is currently working on guidelines to further develop certification programs which are expected to be available to practitioners within the next few years.

11. What training programs are available?

Many agencies/institutions have training programs which are suited to their specific facial image comparison needs. There are limited training programs available to the general public.

12. I have experience photographing/drawing/sculpting faces. Am I qualified to conduct facial image comparisons?

Although experience as a portrait photographer, sketch artist, cranial facial expert, etc., can be helpful, the facial image comparison process requires additional training, evaluation, and mentorship.

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