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Biometrics: Facial Recognition


"Watch this emerging enforcement technology."



Biometrics: Facial Recognition

By: Susan Geoghegan


It is estimated that as many as 25 percent of complaint cases contain facial images of the suspects, which are received from a variety of sources that include social networks,

cell phones, and other media. Improved system architecture, increased accuracy of commercial algorithms, and inter-agency standardization of the mug-shot capture process have greatly contributed to the increased use of face recognition applications.

Applying biometric identification technologies to mobile applications allows officers in the field to identify suspects while on foot, bicycle, or vehicle patrol. Available on mobile phones and compact handheld devices, face recognition software is generally user-friendly and has become much more affordable for use by government agencies.

Officers on patrol that have probable cause to detain or question an individual can ask for identification, and if warranted, take a photo of the subject. The image is sent through a secure Internet connection, checked against a database and, if there is a match, information on the subject is quickly transmitted back.


How the Technology Works

While the history of computer-aided facial recognition dates back to the 1960s, the first true success in facial recognition technology occurred in the late 1980s and early 1990s with the development of the eigenfaces technique. This technique is an appearance-based approach to face recognition that uses a strong combination of linear algebra and statistical analysis to generate a set of basis faces—the eigenfaces—against which inputs are tested.


In 2006, the Face Recognition Vendor Test, conducted by the National Institute of Standards and Technology, revealed that computerized facial recognition technology had advanced considerably, showing a tenfold improvement over comparable tests that had been performed four years earlier. Since that time, the focus has been on improving performance of face recognition technology on images captured under non-controlled conditions.

The least intrusive of the biometric methods, face recognition identifies a specific individual in a digital image by analyzing and comparing patterns. In the past, facial recognition software relied on 2D imaging for comparison or identification, and was only effective when the images were taken in a controlled environment.

Even the smallest changes in light or orientation could reduce the effectiveness of the system, as the captured image could not be matched to any face in the database, resulting in a high rate of failure. The emergence of 3D facial recognition technology greatly improved the effectiveness of identification by capturing a real-time 3D image of a person’s facial surface and using distinctive features of the face to identify the subject.

With 3D face recognition software, the system aligns and measures the captured image, and then translates the facemap template into a unique code. If the database image is 3D, matching can occur without making any changes to the image. However, if the database image is 2D, a complex algorithm is applied to convert the source image into a 3D image in order to find a potential match.


For verification purposes, the image is matched to only one image in the database. However, if the goal is to identify a person, the source image is compared with several images available in the database.


Trends in Face Recognition

According to most industry experts, fingerprint biometric technology will continue to be the primary modality used by law enforcement in the foreseeable future. Sean Mullin, President and CEO of BI2 Technologies, attributes this trend to the high level of accuracy offered by fingerprint biometrics, as well as the extensive searchable database available to law enforcement jurisdictions nationwide. 

However, he also believes that facial and iris recognition will emerge as standard identification technologies over the next decade. “The FBI’s Next-Generation Identification (NGI) initiative is a clear indicator of the significant change that is quietly taking place. [This] initiative includes the creation and implementation of national iris and facial repositories

hosted and maintained by the FBI

as a critical addition to the improvements they are making to their identification capabilities,” Mullin said.

John Hinmon, Senior VP of Marketing for Cross Match Technologies, Inc., agrees that current searchable databases for facial images are considerably smaller than those existing for fingerprints. He also points out that facial algorithms still need refinement with regard to coverings (glasses, etc.) and expressions (anger, stress, smiles, etc.).

But, like Mullin, Hinmon views facial biometrics as an important tool for law enforcement. “As iris and facial capture capabilities improve and algorithms improve, and the databases continue to be populated, they will further solidify their place as ‘go to’ biometrics along with finger.”

President and CEO of Animetrics, Inc., Paul Schuepp, sees law enforcement trending toward the use of facial recognition systems as a complement to fingerprint technology. For investigative processing, a captured latent facial photo can be used to filter or search the mug-shot criminal database for possible matching candidates, but it is not always conclusive evidence of suspect identification.

However, it may be the only evidence to work with when investigators are unable to capture latent fingerprints at the crime scene. “The trend is to now go deeper than before because of facial technology on the investigations, especially when all you have is video evidence,” Schuepp said. In addition, detectives are now able to open up cold cases with the photographic facial image because of image enhancement tools, such as Animetrics ForensicaGPS.

Robert Horton, Senior Director of Marketing and Communications for MorphoTrak, also believes that fingerprint will remain the dominant biometric in the government sector for many years to come. Very few databases currently exist for iris technology, and face recognition is too susceptible to issues with lighting, pose angle, and resolution.

“Iris has been captured by the Department of Defense in Iraq & Afghanistan, but few other databases exist, and today the vast majority of State and Local police agencies do not capture iris,” Horton said. “The main issue with face is lighting and pose angle (with different issues posed during both day and night with shadows, contrast, wash-out, etc.).” 

While Horton believes that advances in face recognition technology will never be as accurate as fingerprint for identification (a 1:N unknown person against a multi-million person database), he does acknowledge that it is a useful tool when used in other applications. Some examples include a check against 100 to 1,000 faces on a terrorist watch list, a check against a banned person watch list at a casino, and a verification check against a claimed identity (1:1).


Biometrics Systems

A diverse range of facial recognition solutions are available for mobile devices, all of which provide accurate, reliable matching and rapid identification. Some systems are designed for a specific identification modality, i.e., fingerprinting, iris scan, or face recognition, while others combine two or more biometric technologies on one device for in-the-field use.

By utilizing a combination of biometric recognition techniques, the level of accuracy greatly increases. When positive identification is not possible with one form of recognition technology (fingerprint), a combination (fingerprint, iris, and face) can be used to validate identification.


The Morpho RapID™, an all-in-one handheld device offered by MorphoTrak, uses the most capable and innovative technologies available on the market for on-the-spot ID checks, immigration and border control, and suspect identification.

With full shift autonomy, this mobile identification device is easy to use and features a rugged design that conforms to IP65. Equipped with an on-board watch-list of up to 180,000 individuals, the Morpho RapID™ offers fingerprint and photo capture and real-time high-quality WiFi and/or cellular wireless communication with central AFIS.

Another multi-biometric solution offered by MorphoTrak is the Morpho HIIDE5, a handheld military-grade device that provides local or remote EBTS-compliant enrollment and search. It is capable of generating onboard templates for fingerprint, iris and facial images identical to those used in Morpho systems. With on-board databases that hold up to 1.5 million records, HIIDE5 is ideal for high-volume remote applications. The device feature a 5-inch color touchscreen, an on-screen keyboard for entering demographic information, and is encryption and tamper-protected for security.

Delivering optimum multi-biometric enrollment and identity management capabilities, the SEEK Avenger from Cross Match Technologies, Inc. is a highly mobile and interoperable system ideal for in-field operations. This rugged yet compact device is built to perform in the challenging environments associated with military, border security, and law enforcement deployments.


The device features forensic-quality fingerprint and stand-off dual iris capture (even in direct sunlight), high-resolution facial and evidence imaging, and multiple-format credential reading. With optional 3G/4G wireless connectivity and an onboard watch list of up to 250,000 records, the SEEK Avenger allows officers to quickly access vital information, eliminating the need to transport the suspect to the station house for identification.


BI2 Technologies’ MORIS™ (Mobile Offender Recognition and Identification System) is a handheld fully integrated multi-modal biometric device for iris, fingerprint and facial recognition capture. Named as one of the best innovations of 2010 by Popular Science, MORIS™ is designed to work with an iPhone. The app was developed by BI2 Technologies and utilizes Animetrics’ facial recognition technology to automatically translate two-dimensional images into three-dimensional pictures for enhanced analytical capabilities


After a digital image of an individual’s fingerprint, iris or face is captured, it is transmitted over a secure wireless network for comparison against an existing database of criminal justice records. If a match is found, MORIS™ quickly provides identity confirmation and previous criminal history. For facial capture, an officer takes a photo of a person at a distance of about 2 feet to 5 feet and approximately 130 distinguishing points on the face are identified, such as the distance between a person’s eye and nose.


Mullen pointed out that MORIS’ relatively low cost ($3,000 including the Smartphone) makes it the ideal choice for smaller law enforcement agencies. “MORIS™ enables the smaller agency to have immediate access to our national iris biometric database for searches by data (i.e., DOB, name, etc.) or by iris, as well as having the capability to use the FBI certified fingerprint if their state’s Automated Fingerprint Identification System (AFIS) can receive and process an FBI certified fingerprint. MORIS™ can also perform facial recognition if their state has a searchable mug shot repository.” 

A leader in advanced 3D facial recognition and facial identity solutions, Animetrics offers four patented technologies for military and law enforcement applications. The FaceR™ MobileID is a three-dimensional facial recognition and identity system that operates on mobile devices, where it is managed by their FaceR Identity Management Solution (FIMS) platform.

FIMS is a comprehensive facial-recognition platform that provides centralized management and advanced recognition services, including full search, matching and access to multiple subject databases (including watch lists).

User-friendly and easy to install, FaceR™ MobileID functions like other mobile applications on Apple’s iOS for iPhone or the Android operating system.


This past May, Animetrics announced the availability of ID-Ready, a subscription-based online service for smaller police departments. The service applies 2D-to-3D algorithms to correct a grainy, partial-view 2-D facial image, making it ready for most facial recognition systems. Ideal for smaller agencies on limited budgets that cannot invest in facial analytic systems, ID-Ready is offered in three pricing options: pay as you go, monthly, and monthly prepaid. The company also extends special pricing for qualified law enforcement agencies.


Successful Implementation

Police agencies interested in utilizing facial recognition technology are advised by industry experts to consider certain factors to ensure successful implementation, such as cost, best practices, database access, and vendor support and training. Sean Mullin suggests speaking with the potential vendor’s existing clients to assess the performance of their technology, and confirm access to a national database.

“Make sure the vendor can provide immediate and secure access to national biometric databases. Having limited access to information from one jurisdiction or state significantly reduces the value of the technology.”

Since there are significant differences in cost, Mullin advises doing a price comparison with special attention paid to hidden costs. Some companies include additional costs for the number of enrollments or identity verifications, as well as click charges for each time the agency checks for an individual.

“Our advice is to demand a complete cost proposal

and only buy if the vendor will provide: unlimited number of users; unlimited number of enrollments; unlimited number of times authorized staff can check for an individual in a national database; integration with existing systems and databases (no redundant data entry).” On-site implementation and a minimum of four hours of quality training during multiple shifts should also be included in the cost, Mullen noted.

Robert Horton advises agencies to follow the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) best practices in the capture of facial images, as there are specifications for background color, lighting, maximum head tilt, etc. “Be sure to have the software calculate the NIST-quality metrics for images, and re-capture when the quality metric does not meet best practice guidelines,” Horton stated.

According to Paul Schuepp, Animetrics offers training and programs for free evaluation use of the face biometric applications to assist agencies in the decision-making process. “Animetrics offers SaaS services online, such as, and for developers, Web service Facial Recognition API at The future trend will be to set up facial databases to share between law enforcement agencies.”

Cross Match offers a wide range of implementation services for its biometric-identity management solutions to ensure smooth deployment. They have the experienced, certified resources to serve on the front-end of solution deployments to address the concerns around privacy, interoperability and adherence to standards. From smooth initial implementation and timely integration to post-deployment and day-to-day maintenance of the systems, Cross Match service offerings can facilitate customers in any stage of biometric technologies implementation.


Susan Geoghegan is a freelance writer living in Naples, Fla. She can be reached at

Published in Law and Order, Nov 2013

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