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Photo-ID Checks Placed Under Greater Scrutiny

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People generally find it hard to match unfamiliar faces. Now a study of Australian passport officers suggests that security systems based on photo identification need staff who have an aptitude for this very difficult visual task.

To find out whether people who regularly carry out photo-ID checks performed better than average on a variety of face-matching tasks, Dr David White of The University of NSW tested a group of Australian passport-issuing officers. “We found the passport officers did not perform better, despite their experience and training. They made a large number of errors, just like the untrained university students we tested,” he said.

“But we observed very large individual differences. Some passport officers were 100% accurate. This suggests that security could be significantly improved by using aptitude tests to select staff for jobs involving photo-ID checks. Because of this study, the Australian Passport Office now sets face-matching tests when recruiting staff and when selecting facial comparison experts.”

Participants in the study, which has been published in PLOS ONE, included 49 staff who issue new and renewed passports in the Australian Passport Office in Sydney, and 38 university students.

In one test, the passport officers had to decide whether a photograph of a person on their computer screen matched the person standing...

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.