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Facial Recognition Software

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Triela slowed only when her cyborg senses detected others ahead. She answered their cheerful greetings in Italian or German or French, comparing skin texture and facial construction against blurred images captured on CCTV in the aftermath of bomb atrocities, their acoustic pattern to voices plucked from the airwaves by the AISI.
Hunters in the Dolomites, a Gunslinger Girl fanfic

Computers are able to search the Omniscient Database and provide details of a suspect based on a photo or video. This process is virtually instantaneous, unless added dramatic tension is called for, in which case extra Techno Babble or more Applied Phlebotinum may be needed. A Viewer-Friendly Interface flashing the photographs in the database at high speed is a must for all Facial Recognition Software. Also, the final result never implicates the wrong individual.

There are millions upon millions of dollars going into making this Truth in Television. Since this is an area where Science Marches On, look to the real-life section for examples.

This has become a popular crutch on most "procedural drama"-type shows. See also the step that comes before, pressing the Enhance Button. Unlike the Enhance Button, though, which is just nonsense in most cases no matter how good your technology is, incredibly powerful facial recognition software is something that could justifiably exist in futuristic or sci-fi settings.


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    Comic Books 
  • Subverted in the hard-SF series The Fuse. The software exists, but criminals and political extremists are able to evade it by wearing "dazzle" makeup, which disrupts the planes of the face.
  • Vol 2. of the definitive Queen and Country comic book series. The British superspy heroes try their facial recognition software for an evil French lothario (no, really) but it doesn't work. Seems the database wants to match everyone up with the Queen. It's fairly obvious the Queen isn't paid to sleep with rich young women for blackmail purposes.

    Fan Works 
  • In the Gunslinger Girl fanfic And the Adventure Continues the Jethro/Monty fratello have a program called Auto Ella that buffers the CCTV footage and then uses facial recognition software to identify their faces and start looping the footage at those points, removing them from the cameras. Unfortunately it's easily detected, and most importantly would provide anyone who captured the program before it was wiped with enough biometric data to penetrate any disguise Jethro and Monty might use, so they only use it as a last resort.
  • Used realistically by various parties in Mass Effect: Interregnum, especially regarding the ever-secretive Archangel team. Most of the team is careful to wear hardsuits and helmets when "on business", but a few slip-ups happen. Fortunately, they aren't good enough to get a sure match (especially since Omega's population is huge). They do put some people, such as reluctant recruit Vortash, on the right track, but eventually a far more incriminating piece of evidence turns up when Sidonis is (non-fatally) shot on a mission and Garrus yells his name without thinking.

    Film — Animation 
  • Coco (pictured above) uses this to let the skeletons in the Land of the Dead visit their relatives in the living world.
  • Parodied in The LEGO Movie. Attempts to track down Emmett via facial recognition fail because his face is so generic that he's a match for everybody in the system.

    Film — Live-Action 
  • In The Assignment (1997), two men wear fake beards and wigs when meeting in an East Berlin café. The KGB photograph the meeting and use facial recognition software to remove the beards and match their faces with those of terrorist Carlos the Jackal (currently under KGB protection) and a known CIA agent. This was the CIA's plan all along; 'Carlos' is actually a Doppelgänger and the fake beards make the meeting look suspicious while increasing the chance that the computer will give a false positive result.
  • The Batman (2022). Batman has a pair of contact lenses that can act as hi-definition cameras, even being able to record sound. He lends them to Selina Kyle so he can see through her eyes and get facial recognition data on the customers in -44 Below. Even Batman is shocked when he sees that along with various mobsters, there are also senior city officials including members of the District Attorney's Office. The problem is that to get a proper reading Selina has to give them a Held Gaze which, she points out, is open to misinterpretation.
  • In The Dark Knight, Batman tries scanning the Joker's facial structure with such software, but it evidently doesn't prove conclusive.
  • Abused in Déjà Vu (2006). The police use facial recognition software to locate a bag! At least one guy comments that it had never been tried before but yes, it produces an exact match from all the bags people carry around in New Orleans. Although Denzel's character wasn't surprised when he asked if they had FRS and the man casually replied "yeah" considering they have access to... you know... have the US's power grid and a few million dollars (only a few) just to... you know.. look in the past, so they would have experimental facial recognition software as well.
  • Elysium. Kruger sends drones over the Wretched Hive of Los Angeles to get a location on Max. He's able to dodge them at first by hiding underneath a cart, but they're eventually able to get a recognizable image from just a reflection in the side mirror of a car he later hides behind.
  • Done hilariously in Fast Five where special agents run a picture from a stop light camera through a Facial Recognition System. They get a perfect match. On a guy wearing a ski mask.
  • G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra has the Joes identify the Baroness by running a picture of her face against an image library of every person in the world... a library secretly gathered by surreptitiously copying every digital photograph ever taken. Wait.. who are the bad guys again?
    • Used in G.I. Joe: Retaliation by the President's security detail, when Lady Jaye attempts to infiltrate a fundraising event.
  • Used realistically in Minority Report, where the facial recognition software isn't flawless, and only narrows down the field of who the person might be. The user then chooses from these options who the person looks to be.
  • Facial recognition is used in Serenity after the Maidenhead barfight, where the Operative uses the video footage to get a picture of Mal and compare him to the Alliance's criminal database. In an odd example of no Viewer-Friendly Interface being used, the image of Mal's face pops up almost instantly instead of showing multiple faces flicking past.
  • In Rampage: President Down, brand new facial recognition software is used to scan all the cameras in Washington D.C. to track down the shooter of the U.S. President.
  • A View to a Kill has an example from before this trope was popularized. Suspecting Bond isn't the Upper-Class Twit he's pretending to be, Zorin invites Bond to his office for a private discussion, where a hidden camera is linked to a KGB database. Zorn even gets Bond to look to the side (at a nearby painting) so the camera can get a profile shot of his face.

  • The Caves of Steel. While they are having lunch in a community kitchen crowded with hundreds of people, Elijah Baley is informed by his robot partner Daneel Olivaw not only that they're Being Watched, but that several of the people doing so took part in an anti-robot demonstration that they broke up the day before. Possibly an Ur-Example as Asimov wrote the tale before he realised the importance of software over hardware.
  • Used realistically in The Fear Index as a security measure. So the system only has to recognise the 30 odd people that are allowed into the building. Even then the system only works if your face is clean and you maintain a blank expressionless face.
  • Charles Stross averts the trope realistically in his Rule 34 universe, where cameras and drones are omnipresent, but the difficulty of facial recognition and the sheer amount of data means that facial recognition is still done by people viewing footage.
  • Used in the book The Traveler, with faces being recognized from surveillance cameras in sidewalks, crowded plazas, and even ATM cameras- from someone not using the ATM.

    Live-Action TV 
  • One episode of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. implies that the titular agency has a really good program for this. May uses it to track down a man who's been missing for more than twenty years, because the computer was able to recognize him when he coincidentally appeared in the background of a vacation photo that some random civilian posted on a social networking site.
  • Arrow. Felicity Smoak has hacked the FBI's facial recognition software and uses it for the purposes of Team Arrow (no mention is made of why the Starling City police don't avail themselves of FBI resources). It appears to be infallible and instantaneous when the plot requires, but in "Seeing Red" she has difficulty tracking a rogue Roy Harper because he's wearing a hoodie, and realises that's why the Arrow goes In the Hood for his own vigilante activities.
  • Averted in the Babylon 5 episode "Convictions", in which security camera records are manually reviewed by Brother Theo's monks to find someone who was at the scene of each of a series of bombings.
  • Batwoman (2019)
    Kate: I'm guessing the reason why her face stumped your Bat-tech is because that's not her nose anymore... or her chin.
  • This happens in pretty much every episode of Bones. The series even has an expert whose main duty is to artistically or holographically recreate faces.
  • Burn Notice:
    • An episode falls somewhere between this trope and reality on facial recognition software. Michael is breaking into a building (surprise surprise) which uses facial recognition software as a security measure — it compares your face to a database photo and lets you in if it likes what it sees. But it's not perfect; Michael foxes the system by... holding up a printed photo of an employee in front of his face. A literal Paper-Thin Disguise.note 
    • Another episode had Madeline and Fiona talk their way into looking at DMV photos. Michael, in a voice-over, mentions that it would be difficult to use facial recognition software on a picture where the person is not looking directly at the camera. Fortunately, DMV photos are taken with this in mind, so they're able to download a fairly small list of suspects.
  • Averted in Castle; the title character expects a "facial recognition database", only to be presented with three big piles of paper photos. But, in later episodes, the CIA does have a magical facial recognition computer, flickering photos and all. That's not the only magic-tech the CIA has at its disposal.
  • Cowboy Bebop (2021). Jet Black is suspicious of the woman claiming to be Faye Valentine's mother, so runs a facial recognition check and gets an entire screenful of fake identities, tipping him off that she's a con artist.
  • On an episode of Criminal Minds, Garcia uses this, plus her standard Omniscient Database, to identify every passenger on a train using grainy security camera footage.
  • One episode of CSI had the team using facial recognition software to find a killer in a casino. But wouldn't you know it? He was one of three identical people (all split from the same embryo and given to different families via in vitro fertilization, taking identical twins to a new level) so they kept getting false positives, despite the computer being utterly perfect. Then they realize that there's a fourth involved! It's the victim's 12-year-old son. The computer makes a completely definitive match despite the fact that the others were in their 30's.
  • In Heroes Vol. 4, the Government begins tracking the renegade supers by Face-matching them with the massive Everything Is Online network of surveillance cameras across the country. Apparently, all that's needed to fool it is to remove your glasses and comb your hair.
  • In The Mandalorian Chapter 15: "The Believer," Din Djarin must have his face scanned in exchange for the coordinates of Moff Gideon's Light Cruiser. Since no living thing had seen Din's face since before he became a Mandalorian, the computer doesn't find his unmasked adult visage in the database of the Imperials' enemies, granting him access to the coordinates.
  • After an encounter with an unknown terrorist NCIS had its computers running facial recognition software for several episodes - it ultimately took a third of the season, and they only ID'ed the man by significantly reducing the set of people to compare the image against. Even when the plot was completely unrelated you could see the comparisons being run on the monitors in the background - apparently those processes are never minimized. Probably they have to be on screen to work. Maybe it's their screensaver.
  • Appropriately for a series that focuses on surveillance, this features in Person of Interest, mainly as one of the methods employed by the Machine but also used by Harold Finch on occasion.
    • In "Prisoner's Dilemma", John Reese has been arrested with three other Badass in a Nice Suit-types working as Corporate Samurai, with the FBI trying to work out which one is "The Man in the Suit" vigilante. A scanning program is shown working on Finch's computer as he tries to crack the fake identity of the mercenaries, so he can present one of them as a suspect instead of Reese.
    • In "S.N.A.F.U", the Machine's recognition software is suffering a glitch, and Hilarity Ensues as the cast do their best impersonations of each others characters to convey the Machine's confusion as it tries to sort out who is who in Team Machine.
    • Disguising your face doesn't help either; analyzing someone's walking pattern has been used by Samaritan to Spot the Imposter.
  • The Punisher (2017). Micro is able to locate Frank Castle by waiting till he conducts one of his trademark vigilante massacres, getting CCTV footage from the scene and using facial and gait analysis to track Frank anywhere in New York. Frank is freaking out until he works out what's happening, cuts his hair and starts walking with a limp.
  • Played somewhat realistically in Scorpion. The team figures out which person out of a group of people fleeing a bombing was the bomber, but they immediately declare that using facial recognition software to identify the man would be useless - he was wearing a baseball cap, which obscured enough of his face from the camera's perspective that the software wouldn't have enough data points to give a reliable result.
  • Titans (2018). In "Lazarus", Jason Todd is with a friend who doesn't know his Secret Identity. She points out a gang recruiter for the Joker and he takes his photo with his mobile phone, whereupon the Wayne tech in the phone instantly pulls up the man's identity and criminal record, to his friend's puzzlement as to how Jason would know all this.
  • This happens in pretty much every episode of Torchwood. Hand Waved by the application of advanced alien technology and secret government databases.

    Video Games 
  • In Fallout: New Vegas, The Repcomm uses this to ensure that only employees are present in building. However, you can enlist your own face as Mrs. Miller, which cause robots to let you clear the building.
  • Present in Grand Theft Auto IV, with phone pictures and the police database.

  • Metompsychosis Union: The dockyard facial recognition software is stymied by the revolutionaries. It has their heads triangulated as it is meant to on the security feeds, but their faces are left as noting but streaks of black to keep the system from recording or recognizing their likeness.

    Western Animation 
  • Sealab 2021 has a facial recognition security door protecting a soda machine.

    Real Life 
  • Many new computers fitted with a camera will feature a recognition software, whether if it is a Mac or Windows, or even Linuxes.
    • Windows Hello for Windows 10 will allow this out-of-the-box during login, though it's possible to do this as early as Windows 7 with an up-to-date version of Cyberlink YouCam.
  • The Xbox Kinect is supposed to feature facial recognition that will automatically log you into your Xbox Live! account if you're in the room. Of course, the database it will be searching will be limited to just a few people, making it much easier.
  • Las Vegas casinos in Real Life use facial recognition technology to identify known card counters and gambling sharks.
  • Some Dell laptops allow you to be logged in via facial recognition instead of typing in a password. However, the face must look at exactly the right angle, with good enough lighting, from the same exact distance, without co-workers standing behind you giving you bunny ears and extra faces, when the wind is blowing in the right direction...
  • Some Smartphones also have the option of facial recognition. At least some of these come with a warning that the phone may unlock for anyone that looks like the owner as well, and advises them to use one of the other unlocking modes.
    • The iPhone and iPad has facial unlock since the iPhone X and third generation iPad Pro. Apple markets the feature as "Face ID". Many premium Android phones and tablets running Android 10 and newer has the feature as well. Apple and Google also has the API exposed so other apps too can take advantage of the feature.
  • Some models of Lenovo Thinkpad feature something of an inversion: Software that is designed to recognize whether a face is in front of the computer or not. If they don't see anyone for a set period of time, the computer assumes that the owner has left the area and locks itself.
  • Facial recognition over a small database of contacts is accessible enough that Facebook and Google's Picasa does it fairly routinely, sometimes alarmingly on people in the background that you didn't even notice when taking the picture. Same with Apple's iPhoto. However, if a face is not known or recognized with a known person, it will ask you to name the person and it will try to match similar faces. It will also allow you to reject faces that aren't actually the person.
  • Most digital cameras feature face recognition and some of themnote  allow to search for face images on those in memory, even if in both cases it's just to recognize generic smiles and faces, often failing quite embarrasingly (ie, mistaking the picture of a sunset for a portrait)
  • In an amusing Real Life example of Clark Kenting, some of the cruder examples can be thrown off simply by putting on — or for people who actually need corrective lenses, taking off — a pair of glasses.


Video Example(s):



Skeletons leaving the Land of the Dead have their faces scanned to see if their photos are on their families' ofrendas.

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