Forget fingerprints: Future biometrics ‘await just beyond the horizon’

Futuristic-sounding technology such as iris or voice recognition are not that far away, according to Steven Martinez, executive assistant director at the science and technology branch at the FBI.

Martinez spoke June 19 before the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform about the effectiveness of using biometric technology in government credentials, in particular the use of fingerprints.

“While fingerprints may be considered the most common and widely used biometric modality, other biometrics await just beyond the horizon and the FBI is actively researching their accuracy, reliability and potential suitability in the lawful and constitutional performance of our mission,” he said.

FBI employees and contractors currently use identification cards with a frontal face image and a personal identification number. The cards don’t have a fingerprint for on-site identification purposes, but have the capability of storing one. The FBI also has the ability to use and implement fingerprint-based identity verification, should the need arise, according to Martinez.


The nature of fingerprint identification technology has come a long way since trained fingerprint examiners toiled in laboratories checking fingerprints manually. Today, there are more than 18,000 local, state, tribal, federal and international partners that electronically submit identification requests to the FBI’s Integrated Automated Fingerprint Identification System.

Beyond fingerprint identification, the FBI is also evaluating other biometric technology. Palm print identification, iris recognition and speaker recognition are relatively young biometric technologies that have been researched and tested in recent years. Computer-based facial recognition has made several advancements in the last decade, however, the standards for approving these types of technology continue to rise, leading to a need for further development.

Growing demand for more advanced identification technology led the FBI to create the Next Generation Identification program. The program has produced significant results, with drastic improvements in the existing IAFIS system. Specifically, the program has improved the accuracy and timeliness of responses, storage capacity and the interoperability with other systems, such as the biometric matching systems between the departments of Defense and Homeland Security.

NGI has been developed and implemented in increments with the third part completed in May. A fourth increment will be delivered in June 2014, and will have to do with the Interstate Photo System, and the Rap Back service expected to provide an ongoing status notification of any change in criminal history reported to the FBI after someone’s initial criminal history check.

According to Martinez, the FBI’s work in this area is an effort to improve local biometric abilities. The bureau “will be looking at the potential of emerging biometric technology to allow federal and local law enforcement partners to increase their identity management capabilities,” he said.

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