CROOKS WON'T BE ABLE TO HIDE BEHIND MASKS, fake beards, and other disguises if new face-recognition technologies deliver on their promises. These devices can automatically identify bad guys on the basis of features inherent in the structure of their skulls--features that can't be altered except by radical plastic surgery.

One of the technologies is the "faceprint" algorithm developed by Visionics Corp. in Jersey City, N.J. It creates a cranial blueprint using 140 measurements of various parts of the face, such as the distance from the eyes to the nose. Once criminals have had their mug shots mapped, the system can tag them even on fuzzy videotape. If a ski mask obscures enough measurements to preclude a positive identification, the computer can still spit out a short list of suspects.

Visionics says its technology is currently being tested at an airport, scanning crowds for terrorists or crooks.

Zeda ABM Ltd. in Lichfield, England, uses the Visionics software in its Profile system, which is now being evaluated by British police. Meanwhile, Miros Inc. in Wellesley, Mass., recently delivered a rival system to Scotland Yard for evaluation.

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