Jaw-dropping biometric advancements for law enforcement are coming sooner than you think

If you haven’t kept up with the biometric tools being developed for policing, you need to read this

By Megan Wells, Police1 contributor 

The practice of identification based on human physical variation has been studied since the 1700s. In 1891, the classification system and method to individualize prisoners using fingerprints was first unrolled. This was considered the first use of fingerprint science by law enforcement. 

It’s unbelievable how far technology has come since then. 

Behavioral biometrics will help paint a more accurate picture.

Humans are creatures of habit. Soon, identifying characteristics not of what you are, but of what you do will find their way into law enforcement biometrics. These include: 

  • Signature recognition 
  • Typing pattern recognition 
  • How a person selects and reads information (verbs and predicates used)
  • Eye movement tracking 
  • Reading speed 

We may not pay close attention to each of these habits, but they can be analyzed to paint a more robust picture of an individual. 

Other non-traditional biometrics could include gait analysis (how an individual walks). For example, a woman in Ontario, Canada was identified as the winner of a lottery prize from video surveillance, and behavioral biometrics (such as gait). 

Olfactory analysis – the use of a person’s odor to identify him or her is another possibility. Research has shown that body odor patterns remain constant enough over time to allow people to be identified with an accuracy rate of 85 percent – think a high-tech version of the old bloodhound.  

Facial recognition libraries will be filled with social media data.

In 2007, the FBI created the Biometric Center of Excellence to continue fine-tuning biometrics programs for law enforcement. Since 2011, the FBI has been actively growing its facial recognition database, used for several purposes, including comparing the faces of suspected criminals to their driver’s license and ID photos.

According to the  Georgetown Law Center on Privacy & Technology, the FBI database is currently up to 117 million American faces, meaning “one in two American adults [are] in a law enforcement face recognition network.” 

It’s not just the FBI taking advantage of increased biometric data: “Across the country, state and local police departments are building their own face recognition systems, many of them more advanced than the FBI’s,” according to the Georgetown Law Center. 

Although they are becoming more accurate, current facial recognition systems still have issues with minor differences like poses, resolution and wardrobe changes that can impact reliability. But technology will inevitably advance, and the abundance of available data will improve existing systems. 

Facebook and Google already have collected enough data and perfected algorithms to distribute information that can fill in missing faces in the FBI and local department facial recognition library; however, privacy concerns have limited the collection of information to date. 

As improved facial recognition for law enforcement moves full speed ahead, the next five to 10 years will bring near-perfect and robust facial recognition abilities, along with laws that accommodate the use of data for law enforcement purposes. 

Gaining awareness of potential terrorist threats will become easier.

As biometrics become more fine-tuned, optimists believe potential terrorism will be easier to spot before tragedy strikes. 

Lie-detecting robots using biometric sensors have already begun to pop up in airport kiosks.  They are called Automated Virtual Agent for Truth Assessment in Real Time, and you can spot them at the Canadian Border Services Agency.

The robot uses eye detection software along with an array of sensors to pick up on the physiological signs that indicate a person is lying, and once it becomes suspicious, it can flag the passenger for further inspection.

In January, Donald Trump signed an executive order addressing refugee admissions to the U.S., which included a note to expedite biometric exit-entry screening for U.S. travelers. 

DNA shaming will be mainstream.

DNA shaming, or using someone’s DNA to link them to a crime and bringing them shame for their missteps, could be a reality for law enforcement. 

Maybe you missed the “Face of Litter” ad campaign that went viral a couple of years back. As a way to crack down on litter, Hong Kong partnered with Ogilvy advertising and Parabon Nanolabs (using technology developed in partnership with the Department of Defense) to deploy technology that identified physical characteristics of a litterbug. The technology took a two-dimensional look at DNA, and without identifying a person specifically, extrapolated portraits using DNA found on pieces of litter and posted the images in public places to shame the litterbugs. This technology was crude in 2015 and purposely limited, but it is just the beginning of what DNA shaming can lead to. 

University of Calgary Prof. Thomas Patrick Keenan points to a more recent case of DNA shaming. In Florida, residents were required to submit their dog’s DNA, and owners who did not pick up after their dogs were sent a bill. 

DNA is only as good as the database matches. We’ve already used technology like Passive Start and Entry, or PASE, while collecting fingerprints to help broaden the available data for law enforcement. Now, companies like TouchDNA have made it easier to collect and analyze DNA left behind, such as a few cells left on a pen or water glass. LEOs can use DNA shaming to deter criminal actions. 

Heartbeats could be used for identification.

We already know that facial, iris and ear prints, as well as body odor and vein pattern recognition, have been tested for human identification but biometric identification could become as individualized as a heartbeat

Traditional security measures like cryptography or encryption can be expensive, time-consuming and resource-intensive. Researchers at Binghamton University, State University of New York, have devised a new way to protect personal electronic health records using a patient's own heartbeat. 

The researchers encrypted patient data using a person's unique electrocardiogram (EKG) – a measurement of the electrical activity of the heart measured by a biosensor attached to the skin – as the key to lock and unlock the files.

While heartbeats may not be an absolute biometric, when combined with other biometrics, LEOs can get a unique signature for a person that can't be concealed. 

VAWD engineering is a company actively working on ways to use this unique signature. They believe a heartbeat biometric can improve disaster relief and medical care by providing a "reliable, real-time medical status equal to or better than the current devices while increasing the mobility and comfort of the patient."

But they are also using the technology as a part of their “automated human life-form target tracking" system, which has already been explored by the United States Army.

Essentially, they’ve developed a technology that deploys Doppler radar technology to find “Human” signatures. They can detect heartbeats, breathing, postural sway and speech at standoff ranges behind walls/obstructions. LEOs may soon be able to use this technology in situations like police pursuits, or standoff situations – identifying a mark based on their biometric signature. 

Advanced biometrics will be connected to body-worn cameras.

The current landscape of biometric measurement in law enforcement is primitive at best, yet as the technology develops in sophistication, the implications will be of high importance. 

Imagine if police officers could get real-time facial recognition data through their body-worn cameras: Instead of taking a photo or video and passing it from agency to agency to identify an individual, facial recognition systems will be able to analyze video captured by body-worn cameras, checking faces against databases in real time.

With faster, more accurate facial recognition, police may be able to scan faces the way license plates are scanned now. In the longer term, some futurists predict that real-time iris recognition could replace facial recognition as a key identification mechanism.

Missing persons cases will be easier to solve.

Most police are familiar with the FBI’s Combined DNA Index System, or CODIS database, which can identify and compare DNA profiles electronically. In the future, this database will be enhanced by newer tools such as kinship analysis software that will help to identify missing persons. 

By using kinship software, which examines DNA profiles of those related to the missing person, and analyzing metadata police will be better able to identify a missing person’s whereabouts. 

The FBI has already stated that efforts to enhance kinship analysis for missing persons data is a top priority for them. 

Undercover police officers and agents will need robotic assistance.

The challenge of building a persona for an undercover officer has become much more difficult in recent years. There is far too much information online to ensure anyone’s privacy. 

It’s already common practice to create false social media profiles to help advance a persona, but biometrics will work both for and against law enforcement. Many points of entry are employing facial recognition and iris scanners to link eyeballs irrevocably to a particular name. Biometric passports and microchips are also widespread. 

Without the ability to travel undetected, undercover missions will become impossible. Employing the use of robotics or tackling matters completely through digital means will be the only ways to remain anonymous in pursuits. 

Laws will change to address biometric crime-fighting tools.

As the technology to collect and analyze DNA and other biometric data continues to become cheaper and easier to use, laws about evidence, how it can be collected and what’s admissible in court will certainly need to be addressed. 

The substantial advancements in biometric crime-fighting tools are very real and happening in a quick period of time, and the possibilities astounding. 


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