The following is a list of areas where biometrics can make a major contribution, and where ABI can advise and assist.

Law Enforcement
Airport security
Counter-terrorism
Child recovery
Access control
ID cards/visas/passports
Drivers licenses
Smartcards

Law enforcement

Historically the major user of biometrics, police agencies have used fingerprinting as a means of identifying criminals for well over a hundred years. Police gain the most benefit because a criminal’s biometric information such as fingerprints, mugshot, DNA, etc, may already be held in a database. This enables forensic information collected at a crime scene to be matched against it.

An Automated Fingerprint Identification System, or AFIS, is designed to enable a fingerprint to be matched extremely quickly against a large number of records in a criminal database. To do this effectively it will almost always hold encodings of all ten fingers.

Law enforcement agencies have achieved significant success with facial recognition, matching the mugshot (or even composite drawing) of a suspect against a database of offenders. This is particularly useful where the individual has refused to give his name, or has given a false name.

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Airport security

Post 9/11 a real need emerged to identify terrorists trying to board planes. As in many cases the only information available on suspected terrorists was a mugshot or surveillance photo, facial recognition was thrust to center stage as the biometric which could help identify them before they board the plane. While much work has been done in this area, the practical and logistical issues which have to be overcome have meant that so far, implementation has not been as fast as originally anticipated.

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Counter-terrorism

The airport security need outlined above is a subset of the wider fight against terrorism. In general, counter-terrorism involves trying to identify someone in a public area who is on a watchlist, where frequently the only description of the individual comes from a low-resolution long-distance photo. This remains challenging from both the technical and public acceptance viewpoints.

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Child recovery

The proliferation of the Worldwide Web in the second half of the 90’s lead to an explosion in the exchange of pedophilic imagery. Imaging and biometric technologies have achieved notable successes in tracking down pedophiles and identifying missing and abused children.

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Access control

The use of fingerprints to verify that an individual is who they claim to be is well-established. While a photo on a pass card helps prevent the use of the card by someone other than the individual to whom it was issued, it’s far from infallible. Requiring the individual to present their finger for encoding, and having this matched against the record on the card or central database strengthens this dramatically. More recently, the introduction of iris recognition has increased the confidence level of the matches to approaching 100%, although the recognition process takes more time.

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ID cards/visas/ePassports

The issue here is identity fraud, where the agency needs to know primarily three things –

  • before issuing a document, has a similar document already been issued to this individual under a different name?
  • on subsequent presentation of the document, say at a Point of Entry, is the individual presenting it the same individual to whom it was issued?
  • If not the same individual, who are they?

Various biometrics can be used for these purposes. In 2003 the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), stated a preference for fingerprints and facial recognition to be used on travel documents.

ICAO has mandated that all member countries will move to electronic passports by 2010.  ePassports hold the facial and fingerprint images on an RFID chip in the ePassport.  When the traveller presents their ePassport on arrival at a Point of Entry, their fingerprints are read and a photo is taken of their face.  These, and the images on the chip, are encoded and compared.  If they match within a redefined level of tolerance, they are deemed to be of the same person.  Holding the images, rather than the encoded strings, on the chip gives each country the flexibility to use whatever face and fingerprint recognition systems they wish.

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Drivers licenses

While drivers licenses is in many ways a similar application to ID cards, it is still the case in most countries that ID cards are not used and therefore the drivers license database is by far the largest database available of adult citizens. Drivers licenses are an ideal application for facial recognition because the individuals cooperate in having their photo taken, while the environment has been set up with optimal lighting, camera resolution, distance from the subject, and neutral background. While this offers a potentially invaluable tool in identifying individuals whose details are in the database, because of privacy concerns it cannot be used for this purpose in certain jurisdictions.

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Smartcards

Smartcards are not a different application, but a particularly secure means of providing an individual with an identity card. They are especially appropriate for biometrics because sufficient memory can be made available to hold the individual’s facial image and a number of encode arrays. While these will always be held in a central database as well, having them on the card itself enables it to be used in locations where there may be no network access.

The use of Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) enabled Smartcards minimizes the time taken to verify a person’s identity, by allowing data on the card to be read without direct contact.

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