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Gotcha! FBI launches new biometric systems to nail criminals

Robert L. Mitchell | Dec. 20, 2013
By adding palm print, face and iris image search capabilities, the FBI's Criminal Justice Information Services Division (CJIS) hopes to improve the accuracy of identity searches, make it easier to positively identify and track criminals as they move through the criminal justice system and provide a wider range of tools for crime scene investigators.

Current plans call for these features to be added over the course of next year.

"We are experimenting with workarounds" until the software is upgraded over the next year, says Carol Gillespie, manager of the King County Regional Automated Fingerprint Identification System in Seattle.

Recognizing mug shots
Mug shots have long been a staple of IAFIS, but the FBI's Interstate Photo System Facial Recognition Pilot project, launched in February 2012 in three states, now lets participating law enforcement organizations use face recognition to search against over 15 million of those images. The system returns a ranked list of potential matches. The service will be fully deployed next June.

With IAFIS matching was visual only. 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.

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.

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.


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