Fingerprint Technology Helps Solve Cold Case

After the abduction and sexual assault of a young girl in the small community of Cairnbrook, Pennsylvania, law enforcement searched tirelessly for the perpetrator as the community feared for children’s safety.

But for nearly two decades, the offender eluded the FBI and the Pennsylvania State Police—until earlier this year.

After the September 19, 1999 assault, the state police, with FBI assistance, chased down every lead. They pulled over cars that matched the description the victim provided, searched through sex offender registries, and conducted forensic interviews with the victim.

Despite these efforts, the assailant could not be identified. But when the victim guided police to the exact location of her assault, police found key pieces of evidence, including a paper bag with the offender’s fingerprint.

Examiners at the FBI’s Laboratory tested the evidence, but there was no match on the partial fingerprint—another dead end for investigators.

Even after transferring to another job in the department about 10 years after the crime occurred, Pennsylvania State Trooper Jeffrey Brock continued to investigate this case for another decade. “There was a sense of duty to finish the investigation,” Brock said. “Any investigator has that one case they wish they’d finished, and that was mine. I just kept working on it. I wanted to get justice for that girl and her family.”

In trying to find new approaches to move the investigation forward, Brock asked a now-retired FBI agent for advice. As one of the investigative steps they tried, the agent had the fingerprint re-checked in fall 2018.

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TSA Launches Facial Recognition Pilot at Las Vegas Airport

The Transportation Security Administration will conduct a short term proof of concept in Las Vegas’ McCarran International Airport to examine how effective facial recognition technology could be at automating travelers’ identity verification, according to a recent publication from the Homeland Security Department.

For passengers who opt in, the agency will assess the technology’s capability to verify travelers’ live facial images taken at security checkpoints against the images on their identity documents.

“TSA expects that facial recognition may permit TSA personnel to focus on other critical tasks and expediting security processes—resulting in shorter lines and reduced wait times,” officials said in a privacy impact assessment regarding the proof. “Biometric matching is also expected to increase TSA’s security effectiveness by improving the ability to detect impostors.”

The agency plans to use biometrics to identify 97% of travelers flying out of the country by 2022. Last year, TSA performed an initial proof of concept, capturing real-time facial images from biometric-enabled automated electronic security gates to passengers’ e-Passports at the Los Angeles International Airport.

Instead of using automated security gates in this pilot, TSA will use a Credential Authentication Technology device with a camera, or a CAT-C device, to authenticate passengers’ identity documents. The device also will collect the image and biographic information from those documents and capture live images of passengers’ faces. The ultimate goal is to ensure that biometrics work for verifying passengers.

“To participate, passengers will voluntarily choose to enter a lane dedicated to the proof of concept,” TSA said.

Ultimately the agency plans to collect: live photos of passengers’ faces, photos from traveler documents, identification document issuance and expiration dates, travel dates, various types of identification documents, the organizations that issued their identification documents, the years of passenger’s births, as well as the gender or sex listed in the identification documents.

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Facial Recognition Software Prompts Privacy, Racism Concerns in Cities and States

Fabian Rogers was none too pleased when the landlord of his rent-stabilized Brooklyn high-rise announced plans to swap out key fobs for a facial recognition system.

He had so many questions: What happened if he didn’t comply? Would he be evicted? And as a young black man, he worried that his biometric data would end up in a police lineup without him ever being arrested. Most of the building’s tenants are people of color, he said, and they already are concerned about overpolicing in their New York neighborhood.

“There’s a lot of scariness that comes with this,” said Rogers, 24, who along with other tenants is trying to legally block his management company from installing the technology.

“You feel like a guinea pig,” Rogers said. “A test subject for this technology.”

Amid privacy concerns and recent research showing racial disparities in the accuracy of facial recognition technology, some city and state officials are proposing to limit its use.

Law enforcement officials say facial recognition software can be an effective crime-fighting tool, and some landlords say it could enhance security in their buildings. But civil liberties activists worry that vulnerable populations such as residents of public housing or rent-stabilized apartments are at risk for law enforcement overreach.

“This is a very dangerous technology,” said Reema Singh Guliani, senior legislative counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union. “Facial recognition is different from other technologies. You can identify someone from afar. They may never know. And you can do it on a massive scale.”

The earliest forms of facial recognition technology originated in the 1990s, and local law enforcement began using it in 2009. Today, its use has expanded to companies such as Facebook and Apple.

Such software uses biometrics to read the geometry of faces found in a photograph or video and compare the images to a database of other facial images to find a match. It’s used to verify personal identity — the FBI, for example, has access to 412 million facial images.

“Our industry certainly needs to do a better job of helping educate the public how the technology works and how it’s used,” said Jake Parker, senior director of government relations for the Security Industry Association, a trade association based in Silver Spring, Maryland.

“Any technology has the potential to be misused,” Parker said. “But in the United States, we have a number of constitutional protections that limit what the government can do.”

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Border Patrol expands fingerprinting of migrant children

HOUSTON (AP) — U.S. border authorities say they’ve started to increase the biometric data they take from children 13 years old and younger, including fingerprints, despite privacy concerns and government policy intended to restrict what can be collected from migrant youths.

A Border Patrol official said this week that the agency had begun a pilot program to collect the biometrics of children with the permission of the adults accompanying them, though he did not specify where along the border it has been implemented.

The Border Patrol also has a “rapid DNA pilot program” in the works, said Anthony Porvaznik, the chief patrol agent in Yuma, Arizona, in a video interview published by the Epoch Times newspaper.

Spokesmen for the Border Patrol and the Department of Homeland Security did not return several messages from The Associated Press seeking comment on both programs.

The Border Patrol says that in the last year, it’s stopped roughly 3,100 adults and children fraudulently posing as families so they can be released into the U.S. quickly rather than face detention or rapid deportation.

The Department of Homeland Security has also warned of “child recycling,” cases where they say children allowed into the U.S. were smuggled back into Central America to be paired up again with other adults in fake families — something they say is impossible to catch without fingerprints or other biometric data.

“Those are kids that are being rented, for lack of a better word,” Porvaznik said.

But the Border Patrol has not publicly identified anyone arrested in a “child recycling” scheme or released data on how many such schemes have been uncovered. Advocates say they’re worried that in the name of stopping fraud, agents might take personal information from children that could be used against them later.

“Of course child trafficking exists,” said Karla Vargas, an attorney with the Texas Civil Rights Project. But she warned against implementing “a catch-all” policy that could reduce the rights of people who are legally seeking asylum.

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School’s Plan for Facial Recognition System Raises Concerns

A New York school district has finished installing a facial recognition system intended to spot potentially dangerous intruders, but state officials concerned about privacy say they want to know more before the technology is put into use.

Education Department spokeswoman Emily DeSantis said Monday that department employees plan to meet with Lockport City School officials about the system being tested this week. In the meantime, she said, the district has said it will not use facial recognition software while it checks other components of the system.

The rapidly developing technology has made its way into airports, motor vehicle departments, stores and stadiums, but is so far rare in public schools.

Lockport is preparing to bring its system online as cities elsewhere are considering reining in the technology’s use. San Francisco in May became the first U.S. city to ban its use by police and other city departments and Oakland is among others considering similar legislation.

A bill by Democrat Assembly Member Monica Wallace would create a one-year moratorium on the technology’s use in New York schools to allow lawmakers time to review it and draft regulations. The legislation is pending.

Lockport Superintendent Michelle Bradley, on the district’s website, said the district’s initial implementation of the system this week will include adjusting cameras mounted throughout the buildings and training staff members who will monitor them from a room in the high school. The system is expected to be fully online on Sept. 1.

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New Forensic Technology Examines Fingerprints Once Considered Too Old

CARLISLE, Pa. (WHTM) - New technology allows investigators to examine fingerprints that were once considered too old or compromised to analyze.

A vacuum metal deposition instrument is now in the hands of Cumberland County to better collect fingerprints and DNA. This equipment is only the second of its kind in Pennsylvania and one of 14 in the entire country.

“Gold will deposit on the substrate and then I will run zinc, and zinc doesn’t attach anywhere else except to a different metal and then it will attach to the gold that I’ve placed,” said Carol McCandless, the lead forensic investigator for Cumberland County.

The vacuum sucks all the air and water out of a chamber, then the machine coats the evidence with a very thin metal film under a high vacuum, all done in less than five minutes.

“The metallic substances don’t land on the top of the ridges of anything. It goes in between so that the top of the ridge is touched and that’s where the DNA is,” said Skip Ebert, Cumberland County District Attorney.

This machine locates fingerprints from items that were previously tough or impossible to extract before, things like paper, waxy substances, and clothing.

“What we did in this machine of the actual victim’s face being suffocated and on the opposite side of the pillowcase, the actual hands that were pushing it down on his face. You cannot beat that kind of evidence anywhere,” said Ebert.

This not only helps current and future cases.

“I have received several cold cases, one from 1983 and one from 1995,” said McCandless.

The Cumberland County Forensic Lab is expected to be fully accredited in the fall, thanks largely to this new technology, made possible through a grant from the Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency.

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US government to give DNA tests at border to check for fraud

WASHINGTON (AP) — U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement will begin voluntary DNA testing in cases where officials suspect that adults are fraudulently claiming to be parents of children as they cross the U.S.-Mexico border.

The decision comes as Homeland Security officials are increasingly concerned about instances of child trafficking as a growing number of Central American families cross the border, straining resources to the breaking point. Border authorities also recently started to increase the biometric data they take from children 13 and younger, including fingerprints, despite privacy concerns and government policy that restricts what can be collected.

Officials with the Department of Homeland Security wouldn’t say where the DNA pilot program would begin, but they did say it would start as early as next week and would be very limited.

The DNA testing will happen once officials with U.S. Customs and Border Protection, which manages border enforcement, refer possible instances of fraud to ICE, which usually manages interior enforcement. But teams from ICE’s Homeland Security Investigations were recently deployed to the southern border to help investigate human smuggling efforts.

The rapid DNA test will take about two hours and will be obtained using a cheek swab from both the adult and child. The parent is to swab the child, officials said.

The testing will be destroyed and won’t be used as evidence in any criminal case, they said.

Generally, government officials determine a family unit to be a parent with a child. Fraud would occur if a person is claiming to be a parent when he or she is another type of relative, or if there was no relationship at all. ICE officials said they have identified 101 possible instances of fraudulent families since April 18 and determined one-third were fraudulent.

Since the beginning of the budget year, they say they have uncovered more than 1,000 cases and referred 45 cases for prosecution. The fraud could also include the use of false birth certificates or documents, and adults accused of fraud aren’t necessarily prosecuted for it; some are prosecuted for illegal entry or other crimes.

Homeland Security officials have also warned of “child recycling,” cases where they say children allowed into the U.S. were smuggled back into Central America to be paired up again with other adults in fake families — something they say is impossible to catch without fingerprints or other biometric data.

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Half a Face Enough for Recognition Technology

Facial recognition technology works even when only half a face is visible, researchers from the University of Bradford have found.

Using artificial intelligence techniques, the team achieved 100 percent recognition rates for both three-quarter and half faces. The study, published in Future Generation Computer Systems, is the first to use machine learning to test the recognition rates for different parts of the face.

Lead researcher, Professor Hassan Ugail from the University of Bradford said: “The ability humans have to recognise faces is amazing, but research has shown it starts to falter when we can only see parts of a face. Computers can already perform better than humans in recognising one face from a large number, so we wanted to see if they would be better at partial facial recognition as well.”

The team used a machine learning technique known as a “convolutional neural network,” drawing on a feature extraction model called VGG—one of the most popular and widely used for facial recognition.

They worked with a dataset containing multiple photos—2,800 in total—of 200 students and staff from FEI University in Brazil, with equal numbers of men and women.

For the first experiment, the team trained the model using only full facial images They then ran an experiment to see how well the computer was able to recognize faces, even when shown only part of them. The computer recognized full faces 100 percent of the time, but the team also had 100 percent success with three-quarter faces and with the top or right half of the face. However, the bottom half of the face was only correctly recognized 60 percent of the time, and eyes and nose on their own just 40 percent.

They then ran the experiment again, after training the model using partial facial images as well. This time, the scores significantly improved for the bottom half of the face, for eyes and nose on their own and even for faces with no eyes and nose visible, achieving around 90 percent correct identification.

Individual facial parts, such as the nose, cheek, forehead or mouth had low recognition rates in both experiments.

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Your face is your passport – Facial Recognition

Australia is a bloody long way from the rest of the world. Fly from Los Angeles to Sydney and you’ll be in the air for 13 hours. Tack on five more if you’re starting in New York. And if you’re coming from London, your feet won’t touch the ground for about a day.

The point being, by the time you land in Australia, you’ll be sick of traveling. You’ll want to get out of the airport and to the country’s excellent beaches as quickly as possible.

That’s why Australia’s Department of Home Affairs is at the forefront of smart border control technology. In 2007, the border agency introduced SmartGates, which read your passport, scan your face and verify who you are at the country’s eight major international airports. Built by Portugal’s Vision-Box, the gates get you out of the airport and into Australia with minimum fuss.

Australia wants to make that process even faster.

During May and June 2017, the country tested the world’s first “contactless” immigration technology at Canberra International Airport. The passport-free facial recognition system confirms a traveller’s identity by matching his or her face against stored data. A second trial is set to start in Canberra soon.

Biometrics aren’t just being used at border control. Sydney Airport has announced it’s teaming up with Qantas, Australia’s largest airline, to use facial recognition to simplify the departure process.

Under a new trial, passengers on select Qantas international flights can have their face and passport scanned at a kiosk when they check in. From then on, they won’t need to present their passport to Qantas staff — they’ll be able to simply scan their face at a kiosk when they drop off luggage, enter the lounge and board their flight at the gate. Travellers will still need to go through regular airport security and official immigration processing, but all of their dealings with Qantas can be handled with facial recognition.

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Heartbeats may be the keys of the future

Biometric identifiers, in one form or another, have been a part of the security industry for some time. While most biometric access control solutions use a fingerprint or an iris scan to identify an individual, Toronto-based Bionym is taking a unique approach to the market with a newly launched solution called the Nymi. Unlike other biometric devices that make the user submit to a physical read of their finger or eye, the Nymi is a wearable authentication device that uses a person’s heartbeat to verify their identity.

According to Karl Martin, co-founder and CEO of Bionym, the idea of using someone’s heartbeat as a way to uniquely identify them goes back nearly 40 years. Over the past 10 years, however, he said that research groups around the world have been working to develop automated robot systems that could use electrocardiograms (ECGs) as a biometric. Researchers at the University of Toronto, including Bionym co-founder and CTO Foteini Agrafioti, recently made a breakthrough by finding an automated way of extracting features that relate to the shape of a heart wave that are unique to each person, explained Martin.

“It was a very robust method that could work in the real world. A lot of the other research in the area, they used methods that involved finding very specific points on the wave and looking at relative measures between those points. It’s very unreliable,” said Martin “The method at the University of Toronto looked at the overall shape and was not as sensitive to things like noise, which you see in real life. By looking at the overall shape and unique algorithms to extract those features, it was found that you could have a relatively reliable way to recognize people using a real world ECG signal.”

Martin, who along with Agrafioti worked on biometric, security and cryptography technologies as doctoral students at the University of Toronto, said they founded Bionym as a way to commercialize their work.

“We decided there was an opportunity to make a more complete solution with our technology,” he said. “We looked at what was happening with wearable technology and we realized that’s what we had with biometric recognition using the heart. It married very well with wearable technology and we could essentially create this new kind of product that was an authenticator that you wear rather than something embedded in a mobile phone, tablet or computer.”

Although other promising biometric technologies and companies have made a splash in the security industry only to flame out a short time later, Martin believes that the approach his company is taking sets it apart from others.

“We’re really driven by our vision, which is to enable a really seamless user experience in a way that is still very secure. So many of the security products and the biometric technologies out there – it’s almost kind of like a solution looking for a problem,” said Martin. “Somebody comes up with a new method and says, ‘oh, we can use it like this,’ but the question is what really new are you enabling? In many cases, you’re talking about access control – whether it’s physical or logical access control. Fingerprint is still sort of the most common because it’s robust, people know it, they understand it, but the other technologies haven’t really brought anything new to the table. What we’re doing with this technology and bringing something new to the table is it’s not so much in the core technology itself using the ECG, it’s the marriage of that technology in a wearable form factor.”

Because the Nymi is wearable, Martin said that identity can be communicated wirelessly in a simpler, more convenient way than what’s previously been available.

“The person only has to do something when they put the device on, so they put it on, they become authenticated and then they can essentially forget about it,” he added. “We’ve had a somewhat consumer focus because we are very focused on a convenient user experience, but we found that we actually were able to achieve almost that Holy Grail, which is convenience plus security.”

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