Experts: Biometrics need to play deeper role in forensics
29 June 2015 08:59 GMT

By Craig Guthrie

Biometric technologies have not quite fulfilled their potential in helping forensic experts solve crime, according to experts in the field.

Michigan State University professor Anil Jain and Arun Ross, an associate professor in the Department of Computer Science and Engineering at Michigan State University, say in a new report that there needs to be wider cooperation between the two fields to meet challenges “of high importance”.

“Although forensic science was one of the earliest applications of biometric recognition, biometric systems are yet to live up to their full potential in solving the problems faced by forensic experts”, the co-authors write in “Bridging the gap: from biometrics to forensics”.

The biometrics experts state that while there have been major successes in terms of biometrics solving major crimes – such as facial recognition helping identify one of the 2013 Boston bombers – that the two fields need to come closer to meet the challenge of solving crimes.

It also adds that there are opportunities for biometric researchers to collaborate with forensic experts and statisticians in assembling large forensic datasets, and that there are operational scenarios where biometrics and forensics can come together to solve law enforcement problems.

Forensics experts have agreed with the findings of the report, which was published on 22 June by the Royal Society:

"The symbiosis discussed in the paper by Anil Jain is critical to the success of biometric evidence in the forensic arena", Sue Black, professor of Anatomy and Forensic Anthropology at the University of Dundee, told Planet Biometrics.

Jain and Ross write that the use of biometrics has proved particularly troublesome in the key area of supporting evidence presented in a court of law.

“The primary requirement is the scientific presentation of biometric evidence with strong statistical basis to a court of law. This in turn involves obtaining a reliable estimate of the distinctiveness of a biometric trait—a problem that is still unsolved in the context of biometric traits.”

Black added on this point: "Forensic science is a mainstay of expert evidence testimony in our courtrooms and there are many factors which influence the admissibility of such evidence. 

"At the core is the quality and quantity of research and its peer reviewed acceptance within the scientific community.  As biometrics start to appear more frequently on the periphery of forensic evidence, it is vital that researchers remain mindful of the translational demands that an adversarial legal system may make of the research".

The report states that while Rapid DNA presents a possible solution to challenges such as the persistence of the biometric recognition accuracy, that the technology also raises a series of privacy issues that demand serious attention.

“One needs to be extremely cautious about the privacy issues associated with DNA-based biometric systems because the DNA samples (or templates) may contain a wealth of personal information (e.g. susceptibility to diseases). Further, issues of DNA contamination can lead to erroneous conclusions that can pre-empt the usefulness of this modality in unconstrained environments”.