DNA Testing is Preferred with Criminal Investigations than Facial Recognition


Being caused by the launch of the innovative $1 billion worth biometric NGI (Next Generation Identification) system, the issue of the comparison between the DNA testing and the criminal investigation has drawn the public attention. This research tackles the problem of the choice of the most rational decision in the criminal investigation procedure. Examining the peculiarities of the facial recognition and the DNA testing, the paper highlights their advantages and drawbacks. Moreover, this research focuses on certain examples referring to the implementation of the facial recognition and the DNA testing. Special attention is paid to the certain recommendations on the improvement of the investigating process.

Key words: facial recognition, DNA testing, criminal investigation

DNA Testing is Preferred with Criminal Investigations than Facial Recognition

During the recent years, the issue of criminal investigation has been drawing the public attention, causing brisk debates. Numerous experts and researchers compare DNA testing and the facial recognition, and discuss their advantages and drawbacks. This special attention to the issue has been caused by the launch of the innovative $1 billion worth biometric NGI (Next Generation Identification) system. “In essence, NGI is a nationwide database of mug shots, iris scans, DNA records, voice samples, and other biometrics, that will help the FBI (The US Federal Bureau of Investigations) identify and catch criminals” (Anthony, 2012). The program is anticipated to start working by 2014. Besides scanning mug shots for a match, FBI authorities have claimed that they would follow suspected individuals by means of discovering and recognizing their faces in a large number of people.

Facial Recognition: Basic Challenges

According to a dictionary, facial (or face) recognition is “the ability of a computer to scan, store, and recognize human faces for use in identifying people” (Face Recognition, n.d.). Facial recognition away from a controlled territory is a hard task, because of the peculiarities of the entire procedure (Chant, 2013). The algorithm takes the following steps: images of a suspected person from the security cameras get into the Internet database, where they might be differentiated by the FBI. The procedure is computerized, returning a list of matches for an officer who classifies them. The similar technological innovations give the opportunity to authorities to identify criminals in a more exact way, and accelerate the investigation process (Reardon, 2012). Nevertheless, this procedure is effective in cases of matching one isolated face of an individual with another, for instance, when photos from a driver’s license or a passport are under the identification. Under the circumstances, three major features, such as a pose, an illumination, and a facial expression are checked. Pose is the parameter showing “how the subject is positioned relative to the camera” (Chant, 2013). Illumination means the lighting environment that is to be bright enough for a camera to render the facial peculiarities of the individual. On the other hand, the illumination must not affect the quality of a photo by allowing too much light to enter the camera. The third key issue includes a neutral expression on the subject’s face. The strict control of these major conditions helps to decrease mistakes in comparison between two images. Anil Jain, a computer scientist and expert on biometric identification, argues that the ideal following these points offers a 99% guarantee of the efficiency of facial recognition (Chant, 2013).

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Nevertheless, there are certain challenges for the successful launching the facial recognition project. First, in case of not corresponding a pose, an illumination, and a face expression to the provided norms, the accuracy of identification decreases to a great degree. The most common problem is skewed images. The individual’s eyes can be used as reference points, but if the person does not locate the two eye points, the procedure can be ineffective. The similar problem arises when a person is wearing a hat or sunglasses. Although innovative techniques have been developing, they solve the problem by less than 50% in all cases. Secondly, video surveillance is not accurate for the acute identification; just discovering faces in a video is rather complicated process. In case of a successful finding, another challenge is posed: a computer program has to deal with changing illumination, a constant motion that might make an individual’s face difficult to distinguish clearly. CCTV cameras often suggest the video of poor quality that does not promote the investigation process (Chant, 2013). Thirdly, in contrast to fingerprints, face prints may cause significant privacy concerns. Senator Al Franken claims, “Once someone has your face print, they can get your name, they can find your social networking account, and they can find and track you in the street, in the stores that you visit, the government building you enter and the photos your friends post online” (Gurchiek, 2012). Therefore, the running facial recognition technology might be an extremely detrimental step towards the total surveillance (Gurchiek, 2012).

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There have been brisk disputes over the issue whether facial recognition technology had promoted the search of the Boston bombers. Some journalists argue that it was not even used (Alvares, 2013). Salon.com asked the awkward question: ‘Why has the facial recognition failed?’ The Washington Post added that the innovative technology ‘came up empty’ (Alvares, 2013). Nevertherless, Technorati positively interpretates the outcomes of implementation of the facial recognition during the terrifying events in Boston. The journalists claim, “Facial recognition technology helps to identify Boston Marathon bombing suspects” (quoted in Alvares, 2013). However, it is extremely difficult to understand the situation. To illustrate, Amanda Alvares states, “The high-tech video intelligence methods hyped in the media during the manhunt may be available for use by investigators, but that does not mean they are effective or actually used by law enforcement” (Alvares, 2013). For instance, both San Francisco and San Jose police avoid applying the facial recognition. Moreover, California and eight other states that plan to launch the facial recognition in 2014, trust mostly the checked fingerprint. On the other hand, Jim Wayman, director of the National Biometric Test Center, claims that the innovative project has not failed in Boston. Rejecting the statements about the implementation of San Francisco’s ABC7, Jim Wayman notes, “Video intelligence company 3VR’s products were not used to find the Boston bombing suspects” (Alvares, 2013).

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Amanda Alvares wonders whether improved and sophisticated facial recognition technologies can replace currently employed systems. She notes, “If performance in such controlled situations is so fickle, it seems there is still a lot of work to do before these systems can automatically, and accurately, pick out faces of interest from surveillance footage” (Alvares, 2013).                                                                                 

DNA Identification Technology

According to a dictionary, DNA is “The chemical in the cells of living beings that carries genetic information and is a type of nuclear acid” (Hornby, 2004). Diverse living things can be distinguished by means of DNA analysis. To identify persons, researchers examine thirteen DNA segments that are unique for every individual. All the received information is used to create a DNA profile of the person under the research. This DNA profile is referred to as “a DNA fingerprint”. DNA analysis is widely used for a great number of purposes in the crime investigations. First, the researchers may discover potential suspects whose DNA coincides with the samples left at crime scenes. Secondly, it is the basis for the official statement on the innocence of a person who has been blamed for a crime. Thirdly, the DNA identification technology is used to recognize crime and catastrophe victims. Fourthly, the paternity and the family relationships can be ascertained with its help (DNA Forensics, 2009).

Deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) Biometrics is considered to be the most accurate procedure of identifying an individual (DNA Identification Technology, 2009). Every person possesses the unique combination for every cell made, and this combination, or ‘blueprint’, is in each cell of the person’s body. Perhaps, only twins, having the similar set of genes, could make the exception of the rule. DNA may be taken from “blood, hair, finger nails, mouth swabs, blood stains, saliva, straws, and any number of other sources that has been attached to the body at some time” (DNA Identification Technology, 2009). The major problem of DNA testing is its long duration and considerable cost (DNA Identification Technology, 2009).

In the frame of the U.S. DOE Human Genome Program, Daniel Drell provides certain information about the effectiveness of DNA testing in identifying persons. The researcher notes that DNA analysis can be authentic if it used skillfully. “Portions of the DNA sequence that vary the most among humans must be used; also, portions must be large enough to overcome the fact that human mating is not absolutely random” (DNA Forensics, 2009).

Nevertheless, there are minor exceptions of the rule. To illustrate, Jason Felch and Maura Dolan inform about the unpleasant fact of a controversy that occurred during the identification of criminal suspects by means of DNA testing. Examining the DNA samples of two felons, Kathrin Troyer, a crime analyst, discovered that they had almost identical genetic profiles. In fact, the suspects matched at nine of the thirteen locations on chromosomes that is an unprecedented fact. The Federal Bureau of Investigation evaluates the degree of the possible coincidence in genetic markers of unrelated individuals as 1 in 113 billion. Despite their similarity on the genetic level, the felons had different appearances: one man was an African-American; the other felon had a white color of skin. After this discovery, Kathrin Troyer faced several more identical matches. These facts raise certain questions about the faithfulness of the F.B.I.’s information and promote broader researches of the above-mentioned issue (Levitt, 2008). After this sensational statement, the systematic DNA testing of the 65,000 suspects in the Arizona database discovered 122 coinciding pairs. These facts provoked a brisk dispute over the reliability of the official statistics. Some researchers rejected the truthfulness of DNA testing. Nevertheless, numerous scientists proved the opposite point of view. Steven Levitt argues that the possibility of any two persons coinciding is about 7.5 percent. Therefore, the chance that two random individuals could have the similar genetic information at all thirteen loci is approximately 1 in 400 trillion. Therefore, nine loci for two random people have the chance to coincide in all issues as 1 in 13 billion. These arguments support the position of the F.B.I. Levitt focuses on the idea that, despite the faults of the DNA testing, this analysis gains considerable advantages over other technologies of criminal investigation, and facial recognition is among them (Levitt, 2008).


Comparing the facial recognition and the DNA testing, experts give their preference to the latter one. Howard Safir (2007) states that DNA evidence is the extremely effective tool in the current law enforcement. Being involved in property or violent crimes, DNA analysis is the vital factor in terms of prosecuting the person found guilty, and the official statement of innocence of the suspect individual. “Deployed strategically, DNA technology can improve prosecution rates, increase case clearance rates, acts as a deterrent, and otherwise play a key role in systematic crime reduction” (Safir, 2007). Although, the rapid development of DNA testing has no considerable impact on the key goal – decreasing the rates of crimes, Howard Safir notes that current achievements in the forensic science of DNA and its broad implementation by the authorities in the USA have provided brisk activities in the forensic analysis, during the last decade. Nowadays, more material discovered at a crime scene might be probative that requires additional activities in gathering, dealing officially with documents and requests, researching, and interpreting the outcomes. This growing volume makes a significant effect on the amount of the documentation supplied to prosecutors. In fact, numerous law enforcement agencies have taken strategic approaches and widespread programs, including the President’s DNA Initiative, or making profound CODIS available at all levels (Safir, 2007). 

Howard Safir notes, there are four major issues necessary for taking advantages from DNA technologies. They are: “An integrated approach, critical feedback loops, measurement of progress and results, and effective processing of forensic DNA evidence” (Safir, 2007).

Howard Safir draws attention to an integrated approach, the critical feedback loops, measurement of the development and outcomes, and effective processing forensic DNA evidence. The researcher promotes an integrated approach that includes several steps. He highlights that changes in evidence gathering and growing interaction with the prosecuting attorneys are the key issue to achieve success and quality in the laboratory. The prosecutorial significance of DNA evidence “is only as strong as the weakest link in the chain from crime scene collection, handling and transport, forensic analysis and interpretation and finally the resolution in the court of law” (Safir, 2007). Next, all the law enforcement officers should follow the defensible procedures within prosecutorial codes of behavior (Safir, 2007).

Realizing the urgent necessity of involving the integrated approach, the authorities intend to provide resources for training the law enforcement staff in the appropriate DNA collection and evidence handling. Moreover, the federal government makes detailed arrangements for providing required money for the state and local laboratories, with the goal to reduce their backlogs by means of the capacity building and contributing the finances into private laboratories. Additionally, the authorities have initiated training materials for the prosecutors, describing the peculiarities of DNA testing and its implementation. Nevertheless, these steps towards the introduction of the innovative technologies are not enough. This training should be provided in a coordinated way at all levels (Safir, 2007).

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The second issue, necessary for revealing advantages from DNA technologies, is the critical feedback loops. Being vital throughout the whole process, “this includes crime scene technicians, DNA analysts, investigators, and attorneys” (Safir, 2007). During the procedures of moving the case from the crime scene to DNA analysis, the data related with each case are cumulative. Therefore, this would provide an ordinary mechanism of the cooperation between team members (Safir, 2007).

The third point is the measurement of the achieved progress and results. A comprehensive tracking system is vital to attain the goal of decreasing the rate of crimes.

The fourth step is the effective processing of forensic DNA evidence. The expert laboratories are to handle a great amount of evidence systematically. The current innovative mechanisms can further combine the collection, documentation, transport, storage, and analysis of samples in the same bar-coded tube to minimize the period of handling the evidence at the crime scene. This activity would boost laboratory efficiency, as a result (Safir, 2007).

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Despite the extreme diversity of state and local laboratories in the equipment, programs, and the case workloads, considerable backlogs are observed throughout the whole state. In fact, the Justice Department informs that the numerous laboratories at all levels “reported a backlog of 500,000 requests for forensic analysis” (Safir, 2007). To remove the 16,000-rape kit backlog, necessary financial programs are required. Howard Safir argues that the police staff should insist on the investment side of the issue because the experts cannot hope for the promised material improvements for numerous years, while crimes are committed daily (Safir, 2007).

Howard Safir suggests the New York Police Department BioTracks program as a successful solution to the problem. Being granted by the President, BioTracks was launched to distinguish recidivists and reduce crime. This initiative began with the education of the evidence collection teams. The second step of the program was the movement from the evidence collection technician to the police department performing new rational functions. Safir notes that the experiment in New York has produced the desirable outcome and may set a practical example for the future innovations in the law enforcement field.

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To sum up, the problem of the choice between the facial recognition and the DNA testing has been the issue of the brisk debates during the last years. According to a dictionary, the facial (or face) recognition is “the ability of a computer to scan, store, and recognize human faces for use in identifying people”, and the DNA identification means the analysis of “the chemical in the cells of living beings that carries genetic information and is a type of nuclear acid”. In fact, most researchers claim that the DNA analysis is more preferable because of its considerable accuracy. Despite minor drawbacks, experts are inclined to promote the DNA analysis as the key innovative technology. Finally, the achievement of more advantages from DNA technologies requires four major issues, such as an integrated approach, critical feedback loops, evaluation of progress / results, and effective processing of forensic DNA evidence.



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