New test finds ‘super-recognisers’ who could be utilised by government

By Shannon Jenkins

Wednesday July 7, 2021

Visa processors, border control officers, police and contract tracers could be good at facial recognition.
Visa processors, border control officers, police and contract tracers could be good at facial recognition. (Lightfield Studios/Adobe)

A new test that can identify people who have an extraordinary ability to memorise faces could be used by government to prevent errors caused by facial recognition software, researchers have found.

Psychologists from UNSW Sydney have said the test could also be utilised in the recruitment of roles that involve face identification, such as visa processors, border control officers, police and contract tracers.

The Glasgow Face Matching Test 2 (GFMT2), developed in collaboration with the Australian Passport Office and the University of York, can identify high-performing facial recognition individuals, which the researchers have described as ‘super-recognisers’.

UNSW’s Dr David White said most people find it difficult to recognise faces, even passport officers who have had years of experience.

“A major finding in our field in recent years has been that some people are much better than others at identifying faces from photographs,” he said on Tuesday.

“This is an insight that has changed the way staff are recruited, for example passport and police officers.”

Based on the original Glasgow Face Matching Test, the GFMT2 takes into consideration factors that can make face identification difficult, including changes in head angle, facial expression, and image quality.

READ MORE: Privacy commissioner launches inquiry into police use of facial recognition software

The researchers noted that the federal government has proposed establishing a database which would host identifying images from across jurisdictions and agencies, including driver licence, passport, and visa photographs.

The bill that would establish such a database was rejected by a parliamentary committee in 2019 over privacy and transparency concerns. However, it was recently revealed New South Wales Police have been testing the database during criminal investigations.

White noted that facial recognition software has been prone to errors, which have led to wrongful arrests. But super-recognisers identified by GFMT2 could be used to review identity matches made by facial recognition software and prevent false identity matches, he said.

“This new test is especially important in this day and age, where facial recognition software is increasingly used as a search engine in police investigation and security settings,” White said.

“It is far more promising than training people to have these face identification skills. Our recent work suggests that current professional training courses in face identification do not improve people’s performance.”

The test will be available for use in a number of countries including Australia, New Zealand, the UK, and Canada.

READ MORE: Victoria sends identity data to national facial recognition system to stay ‘ahead of the pack’


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