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Biometrics Overview

Biometrics is the science of using one or more unique physical characteristics or behavioral traits to identify individuals. The best-known biometric identification method is fingerprinting. Other methods are based on facial, iris, voice, handwriting, and signature recognition. Fast and accurate identification enhances officer safety, detects criminals, secures facilities and information systems from unauthorized access, makes borders more secure, and prevents identity theft.

Biometrics Research Priorities

The research, development, testing, and evaluation of biometric technologies at NIJ begins with finding out what practitioners need and culminates in commercialization of new tools and technologies to meet those needs. NIJ's priorities in the area of biometrics include:

  • Confirmation of the identity of individuals for court appearances, inmate processing, visits to correctional facilities, mortuary identifications (especially in the event of a critical incident), wants and warrants verification, sex offender tracking, criminal history checks, and queries across criminal justice information system databases. Also confirmation of identification of those with multiple, false, or no identity documentation.
  • Identification of individuals from video and audio surveillance for prevention of unauthorized access to school campuses or courthouses, recognition of individuals in secure or controlled areas, detection of altered appearances, and authorization of communications system users.
  • Expedited capture of latent and rolled-equivalent fingerprints and palm prints for inmate processing, border security checks, criminal history checks, and field comparisons. Learn more about fast capture fingerprinting.
  • Expedited automation of legacy biometric information that is not yet shared electronically.
  • Collection of biometrics in field environments for improved officer safety, elimination of misidentifications, cost and time savings, fusion of biometric identifiers, better performance for existing devices, and mobile latent image capture and transmission.

Biometrics Across the Federal Government

NIJ participates in the Biometrics subcommittee of the National Science and Technology Council, part of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy. The subcommittee shapes national efforts and coordinates with Federal agencies that have an interest in biometrics. The subcommittee is dedicated to finding the best ways to achieve realtime identification and tracking and to increase personal, corporate, and government security.

NIJ also works closely with the Technical Support Working Group — the national interagency research and development program for combating terrorism.

Date Modified: September 15, 2011