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FBI Developing System of Biometric Identification Data

Most people don’t question the criminal justice system’s database of fingerprints-after all, it’s a good way to prevent convicted criminals from getting teaching positions or government jobs. And, with the prevalence of television crime dramas, people have begun to accept the growing databases of DNA information.

But the FBI‘s latest plans for gathering information on United States citizens have some people demanding their privacy back.

The Washington Post recounts the FBI’s plan to invest $1 billion to develop a digital database of human characteristics. Officials expect the detail and specificity of characteristics recorded to provide the FBI with considerably improved identification capabilities.

Reports indicate that as of now, digital images of faces, fingerprints and palm patterns are already being collected. In the near future, officials reportedly expect to have iris patterns, face shapes, scars, speech patterns and even gaits noted in files.

Such information is known as “biometric data,” and has apparently been used by the Defense Department and Pentagon for some time already. The Department of Homeland Security, too, already uses iris scans as part of security checks in some airports, sources say.

But will this database of information, called “Next Generation Identification,” actually help law enforcers solve crimes by identifying criminals?

Recent studies raise worries about the accuracy of the technology used to gather and interpret biometric data.

According to sources, research conducted by the German government found that feature-identifying technology is currently not accurate enough to be of much use to police investigators. When used at times when ideal lighting wasn’t available (like dusk), the technology reportedly made correct identifications less than 20% of the time.

That’s not exactly good news for those hoping to identify criminals in a crowd.

But, researchers reported, the technology is constantly improving. In the United States, technology developers are allegedly working on tools that would be able to identify iris patterns from distances up to 15 feet, and facial features from as much as 200 yards away.

The Denver Post reports that FBI workers hope to have the database work based on a fusion of identification information-iris, face shape, palm print, etc.-since compiled information offers a greater chance of correct identification than any single type of data.

Some people have raised concerns about the permanency of the databases, noting that correcting a wrongly documented credit card number is much easier than correcting a falsely-digitized and recorded iris scan.

Others are reportedly concerned that heavy reliance on physical identification will lead to a sort of national identification based on body type in the eyes of the law.

But proponents of Next Generation Identification believe greater access to information will aid forensic and criminal investigations significantly.

The FBI’s 10-year plan for developing and implementing its new identification technology will likely unfold in interesting ways in the coming years. If developments occur as expected, Next Generation Identification could change the face of the criminal justice system.


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