British police officers have this week started using facial recognition software designed to automatically identify criminals from digital images. Police in Leicestershire become the first in the UK to test NEC's NeoFace software, which the force says is capable of comparing any digital image of a suspect with photos held on its database, by comparing "dozens of measurements" against key facial features.

The force says the new software, which it has been evaluating for several months, cuts down on the amount of time officers need to spend sifting its database of more than 90,000 photos for possible matches. The method will soon be copied across the Atlantic ocean — the FBI is set to deploy its own facial recognition system, called Next Generation Identification, across all 50 US states by the end of this year.

The software can match faces against 90,000 photos in seconds

This isn't the first time the Leicestershire police force has pioneered the use of technology in catching criminals. In 1987, county resident Colin Pitchfork became the first person to be arrested and convicted of a crime on the strength of DNA evidence, after a dragnet operation in which thousands of local men were asked to provide DNA samples in a bid to find the killer of 15-year-old Lynda Mann. But we may have to wait a while before automatic facial recognition software has the same effect on criminal convictions — such technology is still in its relative infancy, and Facebook is currently better at detecting facial matches than the FBI.