Gotcha! FBI launches new biometric systems to nail criminals

Palm prints, iris images and mug shots join fingerprints in the FBI's database, helping to identify the bad guys.

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Face recognition isn't nearly as accurate as fingerprints when identifying individuals. "If you had a perfect gallery it would be in the 80% range for matching," Reid says. But that's for the best case. Most existing mug shots weren't taken with facial recognition in mind. The right pose and high image quality increase the odds of finding a match.

But image quality for mug shots varies widely and when matching against crime scene evidence, such as images from security cameras, the accuracy degrades significantly from that best case.

Facial recognition
Using face recognition algorithms to search for a match against another photo is new; it matches the photo taken at the booking station or from a crime scene with mug shots in the NGI database that have a high probability of being a match.

Nonetheless, face recognition is proving to be an effective tool during active investigations for the Michigan State Police. "The system has been very beneficial in attempting to identify unknown subjects who commit crimes of identity theft and fraud," says Pete Langenfeld, manager of the digital image analysis section.

The response time for an inquiry has averaged less than three minutes, he says. And because the people who commit such crimes often cross state lines, investigators don't need to contact every jurisdiction to see if they have a face recognition program. But, he cautions, "Any candidate derived from a facial recognition search should be considered an investigative lead only, and not positive identification."

Experimenting with iris recognition

CJIS has been working with the Federal Bureau of Prisons and National Sheriffs Association to launch a pilot iris recognition project, but whether it will eventually be included in the new NGI/IAFIS system is still undecided. "We know there are business cases, but is it something we want to support at the national level?" Reid asks. A formal pilot will be deployed in the summer of 2014, he says.

Iris recognition, while very accurate, is unlikely to supplant the well-established ten-print system for criminal identification purposes, and it's of limited use for investigations because, as Reid points out, "There isn't an iris left at the scene." So far, the best use for iris recognition has been in tracking criminals as they pass through the criminal justice system. "Prisons like it because you can do it without having to touch the individual," Reid says.

The Michigan State Police aren't capturing iris images during booking, but Blanchard says they have been experimenting with the technology as a way to provide access to secure rooms. "It's more secure than access cards and cleaner [and] less intrusive than fingerprints," he says. "If it's more efficient and cost effective, we'll roll it out department-wide."

While it's more costly than other biometrics, iris recognition system prices have been coming down. And in some applications, Blanchard says, the added security and reliability may be worth the extra cost.

To date, NGI has been returning twice as many identifications with multimodal biometrics as it did with the old IAFIS system. While Blanchard has been pleased with the new system's performance, he says it will take time for the majority of law enforcement agencies to get set up to collect and share the new classes of biometric data.

"It's a revolutionary change," Reid adds -- one that should improve law enforcement's effectiveness, particularly for criminal activity that crosses state lines.

This article, Gotcha! FBI launches new biometric systems to nail criminals, was originally published at Computerworld.com.

Robert L. Mitchell is a national correspondent for Computerworld. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/rmitch, or email him at rmitchell@computerworld.com.

Copyright © 2013 IDG Communications, Inc.

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