Hyper-realistic Face Masks in a Live Passport-Checking Task

David J. Robertson*, Jet G. Sanders, Alice Towler, Robin S.S. Kramer, Josh Spowage, Ailish Byrne, A. Mike Burton, Rob Jenkins

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Hyper-realistic face masks have been used as disguises in at least one border crossing and in numerous criminal cases. Experimental tests using these masks have shown that viewers accept them as real faces under a range of conditions. Here, we tested mask detection in a live identity verification task. Fifty-four visitors at the London Science Museum viewed a mask wearer at close range (2 m) as part of a mock passport check. They then answered a series of questions designed to assess mask detection, while the masked traveller was still in view. In the identity matching task, 8% of viewers accepted the mask as matching a real photo of someone else, and 82% accepted the match between masked person and masked photo. When asked if there was any reason to detain the traveller, only 13% of viewers mentioned a mask. A further 11% picked disguise from a list of suggested reasons. Even after reading about mask-related fraud, 10% of viewers judged that the traveller was not wearing a mask. Overall, mask detection was poor and was not predicted by unfamiliar face matching performance. We conclude that hyper-realistic face masks could go undetected during live identity checks.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)298-309
Number of pages12
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 3 Feb 2020

Bibliographical note

© 2020 by SAGE Publications. This is an author-produced version of the published paper. Uploaded in accordance with the publisher’s self-archiving policy. Further copying may not be permitted; contact the publisher for details.


  • deception
  • face perception
  • face recognition
  • fraud
  • identification
  • masks
  • passports
  • realistic
  • silicone

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