Skip to main content
U.S. flag

An official website of the United States government

Official websites use .gov
A .gov website belongs to an official government organization in the United States.

Secure .gov websites use HTTPS
A lock ( ) or https:// means you’ve safely connected to the .gov website. Share sensitive information only on official, secure websites.

Commerce's NIST Reports Significant Advances Made in Facial Recognition Technology

Computers have become much more adept at "recognizing" human faces during the past two years, states a report released today by the Commerce Department's National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST).

Scientists from NIST, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) and DoD Counterdrug Technology Development Program Office have completed the most comprehensive evaluation to date of commercially available face recognition systems, and concluded that the technology has made significant advances. The study, Face Recognition Vendor Test 2002 (FRVT 2002), was performed in response to the USA PATRIOT Act and the Enhanced Border Security Act.

The primary objective of FRVT 2002 was to provide performance measures for assessing the capability of automatic face recognition systems to meet real-world scenarios—verification of identity, identification of an unknown individual and detection of an individual on a watch list.

Key findings of the study include new data about verification, demographics, and indoor and outdoor matching abilities.

The study shows that there has been a 50 percent reduction in error rates since comparable tests were conducted in 2000. For verification (i.e., determining whether a person is who he or she claims to be), the best facial recognition systems are equivalent to 1998 fingerprint matching technologies, yielding a 90 percent verification rate with a 1 percent false acceptance rate. This is a substantial improvement since the FRVT 2000, where the verification rate was 80 percent.

For the first time, researchers evaluated demographic factors impacting the ability to recognize faces. These results show that males are easier to identify than females, and older people are easier to recognize than younger people.

The study also found significant differences in matching abilities depending on whether the images were taken indoors or outdoors. Face recognition performance for outdoor images is only about half as good as for indoor images, where there is better control of lighting conditions.

Ten companies participated in the tests, which involved matching 121,589 images of 37,437 individuals.

The complete report is available at and is also posted at

Key results from FRVT 2002 were included in a recent report to Congress, also mandated by the PATRIOT Act and the Enhanced Border Security Act. In an appendix to that report, NIST recommended a dual approach that employs both fingerprint and face recognition technologies in a biometric system that would make the nation's borders more secure. NIST made its recommendation in conjunction with the Departments of Justice and State. The complete NIST appendix is available at

FRVT 2002 had the backing of numerous government organizations. FRVT 2002 sponsors (those organizations that provided resources for the evaluation) were: NIST, DARPA, the Department of Justice's National Institute of Justice (NIJ), the Department of State, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI).

FRVT 2002 supporters were: CTAC, the U.S. Customs Service, the Department of Energy, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), the U.S. Secret Service, the Technical Support Working Group, the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS), the Canadian Passport Office, the United Kingdom Biometrics Working Group, and Australian Customs.

As a non-regulatory agency of the U.S. Department of Commerce's Technology Administration, NIST develops and promotes measurement, standards and technology to enhance productivity, facilitate trade and improve the quality of life.

Released March 13, 2003, Updated January 12, 2023