Bridging the gap: from biometrics to forensics
Professor Anil Jain, Michigan State University, USA
Biometric Recognition, or simply biometrics, refers to "Automated recognition of individuals based on their behavioral and biological characteristics." The success of fingerprints in forensics and law enforcement applications, coupled with growing concerns related to national security, financial fraud and cyber attacks, has generated a huge interest in utilizing fingerprints, as well as other biological traits, for automated person recognition. It is, therefore, not surprising to see biometrics permeating various segments of our society. Applications include smartphone security, mobile payment, border crossing, national civil registry, and access to restricted facilities. Despite these successful deployments, there are several existing challenges and new opportunities for person recognition using biometrics. In particular, when biometric data is acquired in an unconstrained environment or if the subject is uncooperative, the quality of the ensuing biometric data may not be amenable for recognition. As an example, recognizing subjects from face images captured in surveillance video frames is substantially more difficult than recognizing controlled mug shot images. Therefore, additional cues such as scars, marks and tattoos may have to be used in conjunction with partial low-resolution face images to recognize a person. In some situations, a face image of the suspect may not even be available. Rather, a composite image rendered by a forensic artist based on verbal descriptions provided by witnesses, may have to be used for recognition purposes. Indeed, some of the more recent biometric applications have a forensic “twist” to them. This talk will discuss how biometrics evolved from forensics and how its focus has shifted back to its origin in order to solve some of the challenging problems in forensic science.
The future of forensic DNA analysis
Dr John Butler, NIST, USA
The author’s thoughts and opinions on where the field of forensic DNA testing is headed for the next decade are provided in the context of where the field has come over the past 30 years. Like the Olympic motto of “faster, higher, stronger”, forensic DNA protocols can be expected to become more rapid, sensitive, and provide stronger investigative potential. New short tandem repeat (STR) loci have expanded the core set of genetic markers used for human identification in Europe and the United States. Rapid DNA testing is on the verge of enabling new applications. Next-generation sequencing has the potential to provide greater depth of coverage for information on STR alleles. Familial DNA searching has expanded capabilities of DNA databases in parts of the world where it is allowed. Challenges and opportunities that will impact the future of forensic DNA are explored including the need for education and training to improve interpretation of complex DNA profiles.
Advances in analytical forensic chemistry
Dr Kenneth G Furton, Florida International University, USA
Advances in the analytical forensic sciences have resulted in increasingly lower detection limits, more rapid analysis and greater portability of detection devices. These increased capabilities allow for the improved location of trace evidence but also the detection of the odours associated with forensic traces even if the evidence has been removed. This talk will discuss the challenges in reliably detecting transient odour chemicals and the probative value of detecting the odour chemicals of forensic materials including drugs, explosives, live human scent and the scent of death. The ability to detect the odour chemicals of forensic materials is of great importance to forensic science and as such detection is often crucial to locating a crime scene and pinpointing the source of the odour. While instruments have improved significantly in the past two decades, in most cases the detection capabilities of canines are still superior to electronic sensors for detecting forensic odours. The talk will cover recent advances in improving odour detection by and the standardization efforts that are underway to improve the reliability of odour evidence. Several case studies will be shown where odour evidence has been useful to solve crimes and this novel scientific evidence has been declared reliable in a variety of courts of law including the US Supreme Court. The increased development of best practice guidelines for dogs and sensors should continue to improve their reliability, increase adoption of these methods and expand the use of odour as forensic evidence.
Imaging and virtual autopsy
Dr Stephan Bolliger, Institute of Forensic Medicine, University of Zurich, Switzerland
In forensic medicine, a thorough and clear documentation of findings is essential if the case is to be presented at court.
In order to create a three-dimensional documentation of findings which can be reassessed if necessary by other experts, the research project “Virtopsy®” was launched in the late 1990s. This project combined autopsy results with forensic imaging in the form of computed tomography, magnetic resonance tomography and surface scanning. The success of this project eventually succeeded in convincing the courts in Switzerland to accept these novel methods as evidence. As opposition toward autopsies has grown over the last decades, Virtopsy® also strives to elaborate additional methods which can answer the main forensic questions without autopsy. These methods comprise of post-mortem angiography for illustration of the vascular bed and image-guided tissue and fluid sampling for histological, toxicological and microbiological examinations.
To our opinion, forensic imaging is an objective method which offers the possibility for a reassessment of the findings by other experts, even after burial or cremation of the corpse, thus leading to a greater security at court. Augmented by tissue and fluid sampling as a minimally invasive technique, forensic imaging offers a viable alternative to autopsy in certain cases.
Chair: Ms Sue Ballou
Ms Sue Ballou, NIST, USA