Date icon28 April 2021

Automatic Facial Recognition

Once looked upon as the epitome of advancing futuristic civilisations in the world of sci-fi, Automatic Facial Recognition (AFR) has now firmly earnt its place in mainstream operations all over the world.

The technology has since emerged as a welcomed solution across countless industries. From making time efficiencies within police operations, bolstering airport security screening to tackling fraud prevention across the financial sector, the capability of AFR software is undeniable.

But how does AFR technology work and how does it compare to other biometric recognition technologies? Here, we explore Automatic Facial Recognition (AFR), how it is being utilised by UK authorities and industries, and whether it is an effective step forward from fingerprint system biometrics.  

What is AFR and how does it work?

Our physical characteristics are the most unique form of identity verification we have. We recognise ourselves and each other by looking at our faces, which is what makes AFR software such an effective tool for law enforcement and other industries globally.  

A form of biometric security, facial recognition systems can automatically detect a human face from a digital image, a video still frame or in real-time against a database. These automated systems are used to identify someone in a matter of seconds based on their unique characteristics.

While facial recognition systems do differ, they tend to operate in four steps:

Step one: Face detection

The camera either detects or locates the facial image, either in isolation or in a crowd.

Step two: Face analysis

The image of the face is captured and analysed. 2D images are more widely relied upon than 3D ones, as 2D is more likely to match with public photographs or a database. The geometry of the face is read by the software and key characteristics such as cheekbone shape, lip contours, depth of the eye sockets and the distance between the eyes are used to distinguish the face.

Step three: Converting the image to data

The process of capturing the face then converts this information into a set of digital data based on the person’s features. The code that this data becomes is called a faceprint. Each person has their own unique faceprint, similarly to us each having our own unique fingerprint for other biometric readers. 

Step four: Finding a match

Finally, the faceprint is compared against a database of other known faces. If the faceprint matches an image in the facial recognition database, a match is determined. Who uses AFR software? AFR software is used by countless industries, including:

  • Law enforcement: Hailed as one of the most sought-after surveillance tools for UK law enforcement, AFR has transformed police operations since its introduction in the late 1990’s. It is used by key authorities in law enforcement, including the Metropolitan Police, to help identify and locate suspects, find missing persons and keep communities safe.
  • Airport security and border control: Facial recognition systems have become a familiar sight at many airports. Automated ePassport control welcomes holders of biometric passports. AFR helps to reduce waiting times, keep passenger queues flowing and improve security.
  • Financial sector: Banks across the world have embraced biometric online banking. This enables customers to quickly and easily authorise transactions using apps on-the-go, without the worry of passwords for potential hackers to exploit.
  • Social media: Any photograph tagged with a person’s name on platforms such as Facebook become part of its extensive database and is used for future use.
  • Mobile phone unlocking: Several mobile phone manufacturers, including Apple’s iPhone uses AFR software to enable the user to unlock the device. This is an effective way to protect personal data from getting into the wrong hands and prevents it from being accessible if the phone is stolen.

Other sectors embracing AFR software includes healthcare, forensic science, retail, marketing, and some educational institutions.

Automatic facial recognition benefits and drawbacks

Benefits AFR brings a wealth of benefits, including:

  • Increased safety and security
  • Easy to deploy and implement
  • Time efficient process for face detection and face match
  • Reducing/preventing crime
  • Integration with other systems possible
  • Reducing human interaction
  • Increased analysis and accuracy


While this technology is being widely embraced across many sectors, it does have potential drawbacks, including:

  • Surveillance: The continuous scanning and recording with facial recognition technology could make people feel they are being watched and under constant surveillance.
  • Breach of privacy: The storing of citizens’ images without consent by government organisations has led to many discussions on ethics and breach of privacy. In 2020, the European Commission announced that it was considering a ban on AFR technology in public spaces for up to five years to work on an ethical abuses and privacy framework.
  • Scope for error: Even the most sophisticated of technology has potential to suffer a glitch. AFR software could be affected by several factors including lighting/sunlight, makeup, an altered camera angle or new hairstyle.
  • Data storage: Small and medium-sized enterprises may not have sufficient resources to store the required data for facial recognition software to operate successfully.

AFR technology vs touch identification

Since being adopted by major technology companies more than five years ago, fingerprint biometric technology has taken countless industries by storm.

Not only is fingerprint biometric technology affordable and simple to use, but this form of recognition also remains the most specific when it comes to identifying and verifying a user’s identity. This technology is used in authentication and access processes across several types of electronics and is simple to apply across different sectors.

Touch technology is highly secure and reliable, thanks to the unique characteristics of a fingerprint. No feature varies between individuals more than a fingerprint pattern, making it near-on impossible to recreate. The highly unique nature of fingerprints makes touch biometric highly secure.

While AFR technology is unquestionably transforming operations across the world with its many benefits, its potential scope for error does remain a valid concern.

Discover more about biometric access control here.

Transform your organisation today

Transform your organisation’s security today with TouchStar. We’re proud to deliver reliable and robust cutting edge biometric technology that transforms operations across numerous industries. To find out more about our state of the art biometric technology solutions and how they can transform your organisation, get in touch today.



Automatic Facial Recognition Blog Author Lynden Jones TouchStar

Lynden joined Touchstar ATC (formally Feedback Data) in a sales role for Access Control in 2010.  Prior to joining the company, Lynden held both Production and Account Manager roles, gaining wide technical and commercial experience within the electronics market.

 In 2013 Lynden was promoted to Sales Director and in 2017 he took overall responsibility of the business as Managing Director.As well as running Touchstar ATC, Lynden still remains extremely active in the sales and key account management aspects of the business. When not involved in the business, Lynden is a keen performance car enthusiast.