Photo-ID is widely used in security settings, despite research showing that viewers find it very difficult to match unfamiliar faces. Here we test participants with specialist experience and training in the task: passport-issuing officers. First, we ask officers to compare photos to live ID-card bearers, and observe high error rates, including 14% false acceptance of ‘fraudulent’ photos. Second, we compare passport officers with a set of student participants, and find equally poor levels of accuracy in both groups. Finally, we observe that passport officers show no performance advantage over the general population on a standardised face-matching task. Across all tasks, we observe very large individual differences: while average performance of passport staff was poor, some officers performed very accurately – though this was not related to length of experience or training. We propose that improvements in security could be made by emphasising personnel selection.