The FBI DNA Laboratory: A Review of Protocol and Practice Vulnerabilities

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  3. Crime labs under the microscope after a string of shoddy, suspect and fraudulent results

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On-line access to their complete line of books on forensic topics, criminal justice, law enforcement and law. The Fingerprint Inquiry Report The Scottish report instigated by the Shirley Mckie fingerprint misidentification - concludes fingerprint evidence is opinion, not fact. Executive summary. The Biological Evidence Preservation Handbook. The report ultimately reached the forceful determination:. With the exception of nuclear DNA analysis. But what about DNA? The report affirms that DNA maintains its place of integrity, the pinnacle of sound forensic science. It is not hard to see why DNA has long been the gold standard, deployed to convict and to exonerate the unfortunate defendants victimized by faultier methods of identification.

DNA also has the advantage of producing falsifiable results; one can actually prove an interpretation incorrect, in contrast to the somewhat postmodern, eye-of-the-beholder sciences such as tool-mark and fingerprint analysis. Yet forensic science involves both knowledge and practice, and while the science behind DNA is far from the prosecutorial voodoo of jeans and bite marks, its analysis must be conducted within a similar institutional framework. Analysts themselves can be fallible and inept; the risk of corruption and incompetence is no less pronounced simply because the biology has been peer-reviewed.

Earlier this year in San Francisco, thousands of convictions were thrown into doubt after a DNA technician and her supervisor were found to have failed a proficiency exam.

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In preparing evidence for a trial, the two had also covered up missing data and lied about the completeness of a genetic profile, despite having been disciplined internally for previous faulty DNA analyses. DNA failures can border on the absurd, such as an incident in which German police tracked down a suspect whose DNA was mysteriously showing up every time they swabbed a crime scene, from murders to petty thefts. But instead of nabbing a criminal mastermind, investigators had stumbled on a woman who worked at a cotton swab factory that supplied the police.

In July of that year, police announced that DNA taken off a chain used by Occupy Wall Street protesters to open a subway gate matched that found at the scene of an unsolved murder.

The announcement was instantly followed by blaring news headlines about killer Occupiers. But officials later recanted, explaining that the match was a result of contamination by a lab technician who had touched both the chain and a piece of evidence from the crime. The high degree of confidence placed in DNA is especially worrying because successful DNA analysis requires human institutional processes to function smoothly and without mistakes.

Furthermore, in the courtroom itself, DNA evidence must be contextualized and given significance. It would be unreasonable to expect any human endeavor to be completely without error, and one might wonder just how systemic the problems of forensic science truly are. The claim of crisis is far from universally shared. For every person exonerated, hundreds of convictions remain untouched. But this defense actually points to one of the key problems with evaluating forensic science.

The measures of its success are institutional: we see the failures of forensics when judges overturn verdicts or when labs contradict themselves.

Forensic Science in an Adversarial System

At no point, even with rigorous judicial review, does the scientific method come into play. The problem is therefore not that forensic science is wrong, but that it is hard to know when it is right. Breaking the cycle of uncertainty has therefore been a key part of reform proposals. The NAS report recommended numerous steps to introduce objectivity and accountability, including the adoption of consistent standards in every subfield and the creation of a unified federal oversight entity.

One can hear in the lengthy recommendations of the NAS committee members pleas for the introduction of basic quality control. But so far changes have been sluggish. In fact, in some labs quality may be declining as state budget cuts have reduced resources available for forensics.

In Congress, the Forensic Science and Standards Act, which would massively overhaul the field and introduce unprecedented scrutiny and coordination, has repeatedly stalled. But the commission is still in its infancy, and its effects remain to be seen. The Supreme Court attempted to elucidate some standards in Daubert v. Merrell Dow Pharmaceuticals and two subsequent cases, which govern the admissibility of scientific evidence. The court ruled that evidence must be generally accepted in the field and open to empirical testing. Nobody can state with certainty the degree of pseudoscience that clogs the American courts.

The localized, disparate, and unmonitored nature of so much forensic practice makes for massive nationwide inconsistency. In fact, so long as forensic science remains forensic—i. For countless reasons, law is a poor vehicle for the interpreting of scientific results. The chaotic state of forensic science—in theory and practice—and the possibility that unsupported flimflam is passing itself off as fact make the everyday criminal justice process even more alarming.

Thus even as we try various fixes, rooting out bad apples and introducing oversight, a systemic and elementary problem remains: a science of the forum can never be science at all. You might have noticed the absence of paywalls at Boston Review. We are committed to staying free for all our readers. Now we are going one step further to become completely ad-free. One in three people would end up being dragged out of the line - and that's assuming everyone looks straight at the camera and makes no effort to disguise themselves Palm Beach International Airport in Florida released the initial results of a trial using a Visionics face-recognition system.

The airport authorities loaded the system with photographs of people, 15 of whom were airport employees. The idea was that the system would recognise these employees every time they passed in front of a camera. But, the airport authorities admitted, the system only recognised the volunteers 47 per cent of the time while raising two or three false alarms per hour To give themselves the best chance of picking up suspects, operators can set the software so that it doesn't have to make an exact match before it raises the alarm.

But there's a price to pay: the more potential suspects you pick up, the more false alarms you get. You have to get the balance just right. Visionics - now called Identix after merging with a fingerprint-scanning company in June - is quick to blame its system's lacklustre performance on operators getting these settings wrong Numerous studies have shown that people are surprisingly bad at matching photos to real faces. A experiment to investigate the value of photo IDs on credit cards concluded that cashiers were unable to tell whether or not photographs matched the faces of the people holding them.

The test, published in Applied Cognitive Psychology vol 11, p , found that around 66 per cent of cashiers wrongly rejected a transaction and more than 50 per cent accepted a transaction they should have turned down. The report concluded that people's ability to match faces to photographs was so poor that introducing photo IDs on credit cards could actually increase fraud.

The way people change as they age could also be a problem. A study by the US National Institute of Standards and Technology investigated what happens when a face-recognition system tries to match up two sets of mugshots taken 18 months apart. It failed dismally, with a success rate of only 57 per cent. There's another fundamental problem with using face-recognition software to spot terrorists: good pictures of suspects are hard to come by Very few security personnel at American airports have CIA clearance, so they aren't allowed to see the images.

Airport security isn't the only use for face-recognition software: it has been put through its paces in other settings, too. One example is "face in the crowd" on-street surveillance, made notorious by a trial in the London Borough of Newham. Since , some of the borough's CCTV cameras have been feeding images to a face-recognition system supplied by Visionics, and Newham has been cited by the company as a success and a vision of the future of policing. But in June this year, the police admitted to The Guardian newspaper that the Newham system had never even matched the face of a person on the street to a photo in its database of known offenders, let alone led to an arrest.

Indeed, according to a report published in December, the only major research explicitly commissioned to validate the technique is based on flawed assumptions and an incorrect use of statistics. The research has never been openly peer reviewed. This month, the US government also published a set of funding guidelines that rules out further studies to validate both fingerprint evidence and other existing forensic techniques presented as evidence in court.

In , a proposal by the US National Academies to validate such techniques collapsed after the Department of Defense and Department of Justice demanded control over who should see the results of any investigation. Fingercopies and irisprints compared Appendix B. Biometrics: guilty until proven innocent Fundamental issues in biometric performance testing: A modern statistical and philosophical framework for uncertainty assessment Is there any hope of inductively extending the results of our technical test more broadly to any other algorithms or databases?

In other words, technology testing on simulated data cannot logically serve as a proxy for software performance over large, unseen, operational datasets. We lack metrics for assessing the expected variability of these quantities between tests and [we lack] models for converting that variability to uncertainty in measurands [the quantities intended here are false positives and negatives, failure to acquire and enrol, and throughput]. This list of factors is not well understood, although ample work in this area is continuing.

Our reported measurements cannot be expected to be repeatable or reproducible without knowledge and control of these factors. Our inability to apply concepts of statistical control to any or all of these factors will increase the level of uncertainty in our results and translate to loss of both repeatability and reproducibility. Test data from scenario evaluations should not be used as input to mathematical models of operational environments that require high levels of certainty for validity.

We can conclude that the three types of tests are measuring incommensurate quantities and therefore [we] should not be at all surprised when the values for the same technologies vary widely and unpredictably over the three types of tests. The source said there were malfunctions taking place almost daily in the pilot project, which is thought to have cost the taxpayer several hundred thousand pounds. The UKBA source said there were widespread concerns about the facial recognition equipment. A spokesman for the PCS union, which represents UKBA staff, said: "The notion that you can replace the human intuition of highly trained immigration staff with unproven machines is dangerous.

It works by scanning passengers' faces and comparing them to the photographs digitally stored on their passports. PCS deputy general-secretary Hugh Lanning said: "This is untried, untested technology and they're going live with it before they've been able to recognise any of the difficulties there might be with the system. BKA presented research results of its visual-image search systems project.

Given the present state of the technology the system was unfit to be deployed, they concluded. The system was tested in a rail terminal in the city of Mainz and finally declared worthless in terms of being an investigative tool. Our first attempt at registering failed, however, because the official in charge of the camera at London's Heathrow airport could not remember the PIN needed to work his machine After many failed attempts at aligning our eyes with optical markers, the machine lost patience and told us to leave.

An official appeared and said the malfunction might be down to the machine thinking our suitcase was a child being smuggled through New Scientist, 14 April Identity and Passport Service: Introduction of ePassports Facial recognition software is not reliable enough to use with large databases 3. We were told by our consultants that the use of current facial recognition technology with two dimensional images of limited resolution as is the case for ePassports is not sufficiently reliable to enable fully automated searches even in relatively small databases, and performance is known to decline as database size increases.

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The Identity and Passport Service database of passport holders is large and still growing, so current facial recognition software cannot be used to check new applications against the entire database of existing ePassport holders. National Audit Office, 5 February ID technology leaving passengers waiting Passengers face massive delays at Gatwick Airport because of problems with new iris-recognition equipment, a Tory MP has claimed Mr Wallace told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "The pilot failed half its assessments: it wasn't available when it was needed at the right level; when the system crashed, it took over eight hours to fix.

But does it work? Does the data-crunching surveillance state make us safer? Ministers will reel off positive stats but that doesn't really answer the question. We also note an apparent discrepancy between the advice offered to us during our visit to the United States in March and the advice subsequently provided to the identity cards programme team. On 6 March , we met informally a group of senior policy advisers from the Department of Homeland Security to discuss the identity cards programme.

Crime labs under the microscope after a string of shoddy, suspect and fraudulent results

When questioned about the maturity of biometric technologies, the advisers agreed that currently the technology was probably not as reliable or as accurate as it might need to be for a national identity card scheme Fine Inspector General, U. Qinetiq, the defence technology company that advises the government, said a biometric scan in the US had failed because it concluded that a man who later went bald and had a wrinkled forehead had an upside-down face.

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The Guardian, 21 October ID cards scheme dubbed 'a farce' Plans for a national ID card scheme have been branded "farcical" after suggestions it might misidentify people with brown eyes or men who go bald. The Home Office's Tony McNulty admitted some technological "difficulties" with some of the biometric checks After typing in a PIN code, prison officers had to place their finger on a piece of glass.

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Once the print was recognised, they could then lock and unlock prison doors. However, problems arose after a prisoner demonstrated to wardens that he could get through the system at will. Other prisoners had been doing the same for some time. The Scotsman, 20 September Technical problems for Dutch biometric passport A study commissioned by the Dutch Ministry of the Interior and Kingdom Relations has raised fresh concerns over a number of technical issues related to the issuance of biometric passports.

The Guardian, 5 September ID technology 'must be foolproof' Technology behind the government's controversial identity card scheme must be "almost foolproof", the UK's most senior police officer has warned. The cards could tackle terror only if biometric indicators like irises and fingerprints were recognised almost perfectly, Sir Ian Blair said Facial recognition was the least successful identification technology