Unmasking Criminals

Unmasking Criminals

By Dialogo
January 01, 2013

At the Fourth Regional Meeting of Users of Latin American and Caribbean
Identification Systems, in June 2012, attended by 18 countries, Colombia announced that its
fingerprint database dates back to 1952. Thanks to compatible technology, the Interafis
system used by Colombia allows it to efficiently cross-check prints from criminal and civil
databases. The potential for safeguarding citizen security and positively identifying
criminals was not unknown to the 17 other nations in attendance. Many have adopted similar
programs. Ecuador recently installed biometric checkpoints for employees at its largest port
in Guayaquil, while Peru is adding biometric data to national ID cards, and Bolivia has
registered 1.5 million citizens in the first year of its program. Argentina upgraded to
“e-passports” that include a chip with biometric identifiers to make it “unfalsifiable”
according to the Government. Argentina also uses biometrics in its national ID cards to
prevent pension and social security fraud.
Biometrics modalities such as iris, face and fingerprint scans are among those used
and shared among countries in the region. States are also beginning to share biometric data
of third-country transients, persons of interest and felons, which assists authorities
worldwide to identify transnational criminals, and facilitate law enforcement operations.


Iris Scans

Patterns in the iris


Digital camera and software that translates patterns into code and compares it
with the database

+99 Probability of two irises producing exactly the same code is 1 in 10 to the
78th power (more than 99.99 percent accuracy rate).

Face Scans

Distance between the eyes, width of the nose, depth of the eye sockets, shape of
the cheekbones and length of the jaw line

80 nodal points

Camera that takes a 2-D or 3-D image of the face and software that turns facial
measurements into a numerical code to compare with a database

80-90 Eighty to 90 percent accuracy. However, the U.S. Department of Homeland
Security tested facial recognition systems in 2010, and the most accurate one had a 0.3
percent error rate.

Fingerprint Scans

Patterns of ridges and valleys on the fingers


Optical, ultrasound or capacitance scanner and software that converts the
information into complex algorithms for comparison

95-99 Capacitance and ultrasound scans have greater reliability because they are
not affected by contaminants on the sensor surface. Accuracy rates range from 95 to 99
percent, according to the FBI.


Scenario 1: Maritime Seizure

A migrant-smuggling vessel is detected.
Partner nation alerts its counterpart of location, and local coast guard responds.
Coast guard personnel interdict the vessel, and gather facial photographs and
fingerprints from migrants, cross-checking them with a database via satellite link.
Migrants with criminal records are identified and detained for prosecution; others
are repatriated.


Positive identification is made of people who may attempt to illegally migrate
again or pose a national security threat.
Data is gathered on human smuggling routes for future analysis and shared with
partner nations.
Standard electronic file transfer readers allow both nations to process and
analyze the biometric data gathered.

Scenario 2: Identifying Wanted Criminals

A gang member commits a violent criminal act in one country; after being
fingerprinted, he flees prior to legal proceedings.
The gang member returns to his home country and is detained for a misdemeanor
While in prison, his fingerprints and facial scan are taken and cross-checked
against the wanted list of partner nations.
The gang member is matched, and the foreign country requests his extradition to
face the more serious charges.


Crimes are solved and criminals are brought to justice.
Intelligence is gathered to help security officials stop transnational gang

Scenario 3: Latent Fingerprints are Matched
A guerrilla member builds dozens of improvised explosive devices (IEDs) and plants
them along roadways.
Latent fingerprints are gathered from exploded IEDs.
During an unrelated bust, several people are fingerprinted and entered into a
The new fingerprints match the latent fingerprints found on the IEDs; the
perpetrator is identified and brought to justice.
Biometrics equipment, servers and specialized collection procedures build a database
of unknown identities associated with criminal acts.
Gathering and cross-checking new information from criminals helps to solve prior

Return On Investment

U.S. Assistance for Biometrics
Central America Fingerprinting Exchange (CAFE) and South America Fingerprinting
Exchange (SAFE): FBI-sponsored programs that enable countries to use biometrics and learn
fingerprinting techniques. Experts help to set up servers and equipment and provide program
funding. Biometric data about persons of interest is later shared.
Following a network approach, U.S. Southern Command helps partner nations develop
their biometric capabilities by identifying, lending, and donating the right equipment and
architecture to realize a country’s goals, and by providing proper technical training.
A Successful Biometric Program

Has relatively low cost
Reduces collusion and corruption
Reduces identity theft and fraud
Builds a database over years
Allows agencies to share information and react to internal and external threats
Creates stability and security

Civil Applications in Numbers
$300 cost per piece of equipment used to gather fingerprints in Colombia
25 percentage of potential savings to government assistance programs when using
biometrics to prevent identity fraud and leakage of resources
$100 million potential economic savings when biometrics programs are implemented
Sources: FBI, How Stuff Works, IriScan Inc., Merkatum Corporation, National
Institute of Science and Technology, The Wall Street Journal, U.S. Army War College, U.S.
Coast Guard, U.S. Commerce Department, U.S. Southern Command, www.biometria.gov.ar,
www.ElHeraldo.co, www.informationweek.com, www.vamosaandar.com