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FBI will continue to spend billions on biometrics


The adoption of new technologies such as facial recognition and multi-modal biometrics by the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation should come as no surprise. The bureau has a long history of adopting the latest technologies and cumulatively spending billions of dollars to fight crime.

The origin of the FBI’s crime lab goes back to the 1930s, after FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover introduced forensic science to American law enforcement after the kidnapping and murder of the Lindbergh baby. In the lab, the bureau worked to compare handwriting, typewriting, and ballistics and specialized in the capture and classification of fingerprints.

The FBI was the first criminal justice agency in the United States to accept the use of latent fingerprints to identify both victims and perpetrators of crime. The agency embraced what was then considered a “speculative science” and worked to standardize the collection and exchange of fingerprint information. A national fingerprint file was created and became a centralized clearinghouse for all police departments in the United States. The creation of such a database cost many millions of dollars, the equivalent of billions of dollars today.

With the advent of advanced information technology, a paperless system of fingerprint collection and storage was eventually developed. The improved speed and accuracy of the fingerprint identification process eliminated the need for contributing police agencies to create and transport paper fingerprint cards, as the FBI developed a standard for electronically encoding and transmitting fingerprint images, identification, and arrest data. Of course, the new process also cost many millions of taxpayer dollars as well.

Established in collaboration with the American National Standards Institute (ANSI), the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), and the fingerprint identification community, a new ANSI/NIST-ITL 1-2011 standard, entitled the “Data Format for the Interchange of Fingerprint, Facial, and Other Biometric Information,” defined the content, format, and units of measurement for the exchange of information that could be used in the biometric identification of a subject.

The ANSI standard was intended for use in the interchange among criminal justice administrations or organizations that use an automated fingerprint identification system (AFIS) and to provide a common interface for other AFIS and related systems worldwide.

The role of the FBI has been to centralize all criminal justice information and its been doing so systematically over its long history. As an example, in 2004 the FBI opened a facility dedicated to detecting computer-related crimes and training federal, state and local police to catch Internet pedophiles, frauds and thieves. These initiatives costs many millions of dollars, which is why in the 2011 fiscal year, the agency’s total budget was approximately US$7.9 billion.

The Biometrics Research Group, publisher of BiometricUpdate.com, has stated in a previous research note that the U.S. Government is a major driver for biometrics and spends at least US$450 million per annum on pure scientific biometric research.

The firm expects that amount to grow as federal law enforcement agencies increase their efforts to integrate more biometric technologies under its Next Generation Identification program. The goal of the program will be to overhaul the fingerprint system and add new biometric identifiers such as images of tattoos and palm prints, along with new voice, iris, and facial recognition. Expect the agency to spend millions of more dollars to accomplish the task.

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