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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.

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.

National database rats out those with rap sheets
It's common for people hired into positions of trust -- such as a school bus driver or substitute teacher -- to be fingerprinted and have their information checked against the FBI's criminal history database. But what happens if that person subsequently commits a crime? Depending on the law in a given jurisdiction, that person might not be rechecked for years, says Reid.

About 30 states currently do continuous checks so that they're notified immediately by email if an individual in their jurisdiction is arrested.

However, those systems won't necessarily flag people who offend in another state. Next summer, as part of its NGI initiative, the FBI will add a similar 'rap back' reporting feature to its system. "If the individual is arrested, you'll know, no matter what state it was in. It gives you a national look at someone," he says.

The state of Michigan has had its own rap back system in place since 2006. While the state wants to know if a trusted person commits crimes outside of the state, it also wants to keep details about that citizen other than their fingerprints private, since they're not criminals. "The FBI's system will just track that 'John Smith' has a criminal record in three states and points to the state computers for users who want more details. We track that John Smith works in adult foster care, substitute teaches in two schools and is a volunteer soccer coach," says Peitro Seifero, manager of the criminal history unit with Michigan's Criminal Justice Information Center.

The system has been very successful: In 2012, the state of Michigan had 61,897 rap back notifications on 20,474 people. A rap back notification triggers from an arrest, a conviction or an update to a conviction.

 

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