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Passport officers can’t always spot fake photos, study says

On Monday, a detailed study released on the website PLOS One revealed that many TSA agents and international airport security officers have trouble with facial recognition when processing photo identification.

The study tested 49 officers from the Sydney Passport Office. When matching photos to people, officers were unable to match the image to the correct person 14 percent of the time. They also tested poorly when trying to decipher the change of age in someone’s photo.

The officers tested have an average of eight years of experience and have undergone special facial recognition training. But they didn’t perform any better than student volunteers. Researchers believe that the training most security officers receive isn’t particularly relevant when utilizing the skill within the field.

Due to the volume of faces that officers have to examine during an average workflow, facial recognition becomes increasingly difficult for even the most experienced staff. The study discovered there was no real correlation between experience and facial memory skill. And without any tangible feedback from superior officers on their performance, agents are unaware of their error-prone actions.

The security risk of this critical error has led researchers to advise that a facial aptitude test would be more sufficient in determining whether an individual is capable of performing their job accurately. The resulting belief is that facial recognition is an innate skill that can only be verified through a competency test that can predict task performance, and that the current training given to staff cannot always verify whether an officer can adequately perform their job.

Australian authorities have taken the information into account and have already implemented a facial matching test when staffing new recruits.

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