Future of biometrics remains uncertain

The FBI 'remains committed to fingerprints" for biometric authentication, Monte C. Strait told the Biometric Symposium 2004 today at Fort Lesley J. McNair in Washington.

Strait, chief of the FBI's Criminal Justice Information Services Division, said the bureau's collection of 46.9 million digital prints in the Integrated Automated Fingerprint Identification System remains the nation's only large biometric repository and receives 50,000 queries a day.

In contrast, "facial recognition doesn't have a field-proven application yet, and there's no iris-scan database," Strait said, although the bureau is building a photo database and capturing DNA cheek swabs of possible terrorists here and abroad in cooperation with the Defense and State departments. "Facial recognition will have future utility," he said, "and we are starting to take criminals' photos more than just straight-on and sideways" to merge the images.

Duane M. Blackburn, an FBI analyst who works on the National Science and Technology Council's interagency biometrics panel, said "biometric technologies are going to have to improve," but no organization yet can set clear requirements for product development.

Blackburn said his panel must decide "what to do first for the next six to 10 years" in terms of collection and storage protocols as new biometric methods such as body odor collection evolve. "We need decision-support tools," he said. "How do you merge results from, say, five facial images to get a superior one? How do you merge results from Visionics and Identixs facial recognition?"

Beyond those questions, he said, the associated social, legal and privacy issues must be decided by policy-makers.

Meanwhile, Strait said he sometimes dispatches FBI agents to violent crime scenes in Iraq and Afghanistan to retrieve latent-print evidence from harnesses for rocket-propelled grenades or suicide bombers' body parts such as fingers.

As the FBI's criminal records grow, so do civilian records of volunteers and job applicants whom the FBI investigates on behalf of public and private sources. "We're interested in decriminalizing their fingerprinting," Strait said. "We want to capture prints faster and less intrusively for the next-generation IAFIS."

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