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Computers are able to search the Magical 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, and a few early approximations used by nice folks like the US Transportation Security Administration. They have a horrible failure rate even on very good photos, both failing matches and producing false positives. (Always fun with the TSA.) It's considered one of the hardest problems in computer science, and nobody even knows how far off a true solution may be. Nonetheless, nobody ever seems to bat an eye at including this trope in a completely "realistic" show.

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.

Examples of Facial Recognition Software include:

Comic Books

  • 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.


  • 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.
    • Justified. By Firefly's end, Mal had earned a higher profile among the Alliance, and the poor shape of his ship meant he had a relatively limited area of operation. If the Operative were using a local database first before indexing the full Alliance database, Mal's probably near the top of the list of "usual suspects", even before throwing in any new technology.
  • 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.
  • Abused in Deja Vu. 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.
  • In The Dark Knight, Batman tries scanning the Joker's facial structure with such software, but it evidently doesn't prove conclusive.
  • Done hilariously in Fast 5 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.


  • 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

  • This happens in pretty much every episode of Torchwood. Hand Waved by the application of advanced alien technology and secret government databases.
  • Ditto Bones. The series even has an expert whose main duty is to artistically or holographically recreate faces.
  • 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.
  • After an encounter with an unknown terrorist NCIS had its computers running facial recognition software for several episodes. 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • An episode of Burn Notice fell 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.
    • This isn't terribly far off of reality, unfortunately. In a similar vein, Myth Busters was once able to open a fingerprint-scanning lock by pressing a photocopy of the proper print against it.
    • 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.
  • Used constantly on Fringe.
  • On an episode of Criminal Minds, Garcia uses this, plus her standard Magical Database, to identify every passenger on a train using grainy security camera footage.

Video Games

  • Present in Grand Theft Auto IV, with phone pictures and the police database.
  • 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.

Western Animation

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

Real Life

  • 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...
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