FBI deploys new technology meant to identify criminals, terrorists

Law enforcement can now identify and store your voice, face, eyes, palm, finger prints and access it in seconds with new technology

MIAMI – The Federal Bureau of Investigation has officially moved into the age of biometrics. The new technology has vanished the days of ink card fingerprinting and storing information in file cabinets. 

When Sept. 11 happened, there was a powerful push for the technology's use in law enforcement. Now there are iris scans, face-detection and eye and voice recognition. Portable mobile devices similar to the Apple smart phone finger print recognition are being used by law enforcement

As the technology has matured over the last decade, it has turned into  big business. Qbase Senior Vice President Louis E. Grever is a former FBI special agent. The company he leads services the Department of Homeland Security, the Department of Defense and other federal agencies. Grever still appears in FBI agents' training videos -- including one about biometrics.

When the World Trade Center was attacked, "I knew it was going to be a defining moment for the FBI, our organization [FBI science and technology branch] and our country," Grever said in a video that was circulating in the agency this week.

The FBI announced Monday that the $1.2 billion Next Generation Identification system -- that involves software and hardware technology to capture, store and analyze digitized data about people  -- was fully operational. The system enhances law enforcement's use of image data bases and closed-circuit security cameras.

The new system improved registries for sexual offenders, wanted persons and suspected terrorists. It is being used at the federal, state, local, tribal and international levels. There are about 18,000 agencies nationwide with access, Stephanie Hill, of Lockheed Martin, said in a statement.

Lockheed is one of the world's largest defense contractors. A team of engineers implemented updates as soon as Lockheed got the contract in 2008. There were two more updates in 2011, another in 2013 and the last update was this year.

FBI's new system includes data on "fingerprint images, palm print, face with subject acquisition profiles, scars, marks, and tattoos, and iris biometrics," an FBI website said. It will also include voice, DNA and other merging biometrics, the FBI said.

The new identification system is "bigger, faster, and better," FBI's former

Criminal Justice Information Services Division's

Assistant Director Tom Bush said when the plans were already in place in 2009. Bush is now a principal at Deep Water Point, a company that helps create private and public sector partnerships.

Experts believe the industry will grow to about $23.5 billion by 2020. Biometrics specialists are moving toward identifying DNA profiles and heart and brain patterns. The technology is moving toward replacing credit cards, hand written signatures and keys. It is being used for banking, vehicle and residential security.

Since its inception, critics have questioned its reliability and expressed legal concerns over policies and privacy. Electronic Frontier Foundation's attorneys have long opposed the FBI's lack of consent.

But even before the system went into full effect, the FBI was already benefiting from the technology. Earlier this year, FBI agents benefited from the State Department's use of facial recognition software.

For 14 years, Neil Stammer was wanted for child sex abuse and kidnapping in New Mexico. When a special agent with the Diplomatic Security Service used Stammer's FBI wanted flyer to test the software, the FBI photo matched a passport photo for a Kevin Hodges -- Stammer's fake identity.

"He was very comfortable in Nepal," FBI Special Agent Russ Wilson said. "My impression was that he never thought he would be discovered."


Rap Back: Database on people who hold "positions of public trust." The service also promises to keep probation and parole officers informed on the activity of people who they are supervising.

Insterstate Photo System: Database of millions of photographs that will help law enforcement with facial recognition, tattoos, marks and scars.


Other federal programs:

DOCUMENT | Department of Homeland Security on biometrics

DOCUMENT | Department of Defense on biometrics

DOCUMENT | National Security Agency on biometrics

DOCUMENT | Department of State on biometrics