The Failure of Forensic Fingerprints

On May 6, 2004, the FBI arrested Oregon lawyer Brandon Mayfield. A partial print found on a bag of detonators had conclusively linked him to the March 2004 Spanish terrorist bombings. Four separate fingerprint examiners positively identified the latent print as belonging to him.

All four examiners were wrong. In fact, three weeks before Mayfield was arrested Spanish officials had informed the FBI that they had matched the partial print to an Algerian man named Daoud Ouhnane. Still, the FBI believed their own experts and arrested Mayfield. Eventually, Mayfied sued for wrongful arrest and imprisonment, as well as civil rights violations, and won $2 million.

Clearly this was a freak occurrence that couldn’t possibly ever have happened again. Except it did. In connection with a 1994 murder, examiners had positively matched Beniah Dandridge’s fingerprints to ones found at the crime scene. In 2015 new examinations disputed the identification, and Dandridge was cleared of charges. He was released in 2015 after serving 20 years of a life sentence.

Although there is no empirical scientific proof of a fingerprint’s uniqueness to a given individual, no one really doubts this is true. The real problem is latent prints, i.e. those prints found on a crime scene, which are often smudged and partial.

The very first person who doubted the usefulness of latent fingerprints was the very first person in modern times who proposed using fingerprints to solve crimes, i.e. Henry Faulds, a Scottish doctor. He wrote:

“The least smudginess in the printing of them might easily veil important divergences … with appalling results…. (police were) “apt to misunderstand or overstrain, in their natural eagerness to secure convictions.”

Despite a century plus of use by the courts, Henry Faulds objections remain surprisingly sound. No empirical or established standards exist for matching latent prints.

Nor are challenges to the legality and scientific basis of fingerprints limited to desperate defense attorneys. In 2007, a judge in Maryland judge ruled fingerprint evidence in a death penalty case was inadmissible, because it was “a subjective, untested, unverifiable identification procedure that purports to be infallible.”  In 2002, Judge Louis Pollack ruled that fingerprint identification was not a legitimate form of scientific evidence. He later reversed himself. Since 1999, nearly 40 judges have considered whether fingerprint evidence meets federal or state standards for the admissibility. All have ruled in favor of the status quo, but many think that the very existence of so many challenges is worrisome. Even the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) has raised doubts and has called for vigorous scientific investigations.

In fact the NAS has conducted one study about the accuracy of latent fingerprint matching.  Excerpts from their conclusions:

“False positive errors (erroneous individualizations) were made at the rate of 0.1% and never by two examiners on the same comparison.

“The majority of examiners (85%) committed at least one false negative error, with individual examiner error rates varying substantially,

“This lack of consensus for comparison decisions has a potential impact on verification: Two examiners will sometimes reach different conclusions on a comparison.”

A 0.1% false positive error (claiming a match that does not exist) may not sound like much. However, consider thousands of fingerprints are processed every year.  If the above false positive rate is correct, it is safe to assume that at least some individuals will be erroneously matched.

It is extremely unlikely that the courts will discard over one hundred years of legal precedent and throw out fingerprinting altogether. However, we can expect more challenges in the future and a growing skepticism among both professionals and the public.

What should Law Enforcement Officers do?

  • Strictly enforce current standards regarding evidence collection and processing. This is just good police work, and will become more critical as legal and scientific challenges persist.
  • Currently only about half of fingerprint examiners have passed a proficiency exam by the International Association of Identification, the profession’s certifying organization. While there is no evidence that certified examiners are less prone to mistakes, it would be appropriate if all working examiners have passed the test, if nothing else, just to deflect attacks by attorneys.
  • Educate the public in general and jurors specifically. There has been growing apprehension about the “CIS effect,” i.e. the public having unrealistic expectations about forensic evidence. This had led to prosecutors explaining to jurors how the reality of forensics differs from fictionalize versions. With mounting criticism about fingerprints, prosecutors will again find themselves in the role of educators.
  • Change the standards of expert testimony. Currently, examiners are trained to testify only when they “’absolutely certain.” This is a highly unscientific standard, and examiners should be taught to state their opinions in the terms of probability. Of course, research has to be done to establish such probabilities; none exist now. There is no scientific research about the chances of two individuals exhibiting the same or similar ridge characteristics.

Although controversy has been so far limited to latent prints, it is reasonable to extrapolate from current trends challenges to verifications and enrollments as well. Police officers are already powerfully motivated to take good quality prints from enrollees. Access to the FBI’s Automated Fingerprint Identification System (AFIS) require print images that meet high quality (all AMREL handheld biometric devices meet FAP-45, an extremely stringent standard). Good quality sensors, especially Light Emitting Sensors (LES), require fewer retakes, and save time. In addition to these established reasons, high-quality fingerprint images also provide a credible defense against legal attacks.

In the long run, it is up to the court of science, not the court of law, to establish the true credibility of fingerprint evidence. In the meantime, law officers’ only option is to pursue their duties with excellence and the best equipment they can acquire.

 

This Memorial Day, Let’s remember the Americans fighting ISIS

Memorial Day originally was called “Decoration Day.” It fixed a time for people to place flowers on the graves of those who fell in the Civil War. Now, on Memorial Day, we remind ourselves of the sacrifices of all veterans.

One person who did not need reminding of his sacrifice was Yale, a friend of my parents. After all, when he looked at the mirror every day, he saw an empty space where one of his arms used to be.

He lost his arm in the Spanish Civil War, while fighting in the Abraham Lincoln brigade, a collection of American volunteers. They were not the first Americans to seek combat overseas. From John Paul Jones serving in the Russian Navy to Ernest Hemingway driving ambulances in Italy before the US entry into World War I, Americans have participated in foreign wars.

Nor was Yale the last American volunteer. There are numerous reports about Western fighters who have volunteered to fight with the Kurdish Peshmerga forces in their war against ISIS. Estimates of their numbers range from “scores” to 2,000. In addition to Americans, volunteers hail from Australia, Great Britain, Germany, Spain, France, Canada, Israel, and the Netherlands.

Many are drawn by the justice of the Kurdish cause. Jason Matson, a former U.S. Army soldier, is typical.  “I’m not going back until the fight is finished and ISIS is crippled,” Matson told the Associated Press. “I decided that if my government wasn’t going to do anything to help this country, especially Kurdish people who stood by us for 10 years and helped us out while we were in this country, then I was going to do something.”

Some veterans see their Kurdish adventure as an opportunity for meaning in their life. They were disappointed with the inconclusive conclusions of the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts. Returning to civilian life was alienating. The one thing they knew how to do – fight – was not valued by employers or their stateside community. At least with Kurds, they can put their training to good use.

The Kurds are ambivalent about these foreign volunteers. They want arms, night vision goggles, gas masks, artillery, and body armor, not people. Several have expressed astonishment that the volunteers did not bring their own weapons. Some leaders have publicly declared that they do not accept foreign volunteers, but since elements of the Kurdish armed forces are not subject to a central authority, these statements are dubious.

The Americans and other Westerners are also ambivalent. Accustomed to a highly educated professional military force, American veterans look askance at the young poorly trained Kurdish fighters. “There are 17-year-olds with no proper training who have seen their friends being killed. They think everyone is Isis – it sometimes feels like a school trip with guns,” said one Westerner.  A former US Marine explained “For a militia in the Middle East it’s up to standards, for most Americans I’ve met it’s insanity.”

There are other areas of contention. Some Westerners have been put off by ethnic hostility expressed by Kurds toward the Arabs. One Westerner was disciplined about challenging the practice of discarding first-aid kits. Some have criticized the Kurdish leadership for their inflexibility in adopting new methods. There has been a loss of confidence in the competence of their Kurdish commanders. One American explained his decision to leave the fight, by declaring “I realized that if I stayed I would die and I didn’t come here to die.”

Some elements of the Kurdish armed forces have been reluctant to put Americans on the front-lines, which have disappointed adventure-seeking volunteers. Others recognize veterans as a resource and put them to work training young fighters.

Still others view the foreigners as a public relations opportunity. Foreign volunteers are interviewed by the world press and lionized in social media. The Lions of Rojava are especially known for their skillful use of branded images and media outreach. Canadian Dillon Hillier is sometimes cited as an example of a foreign soldier whose fame has been leveraged for publicity by the Kurdish forces.

Social media is a significant element in this fight. Just as Vietnam was the television war, the battle against ISIS is the Facebook war. Both sides aggressively recruit and lobby through Facebook and other social media.

Unfortunately, some pro-Kurdish Facebook pages are a bit suspect. For groups raising funds, there is no way of verifying their legitimacy.

While social media is undoubtedly valuable, it is the call of war that attracts young men. Kevin Williamson, a US Army veteran, who intends to join the Kurdish forces, explained, “Do I think there’s other ways to help, other than picking up a rifle and going overseas? Yeah, there’s multiple ways. People can help fundraise, people can write their congressmen … But my specific skill set? You know, I’m not really that great with anything other than being a soldier.”

Good luck, Kevin. I hope no one will be putting flowers on your grave for a long, long time.

 

FBI Certifies AMREL’s Latest Android Rugged Biometric Tablet

AMREL announced the FBI’s certification of Flexpedient® AT80B Rugged Biometric Tablet.  It is now on the exclusive FBI’s Certified Products Listing.

“The FBI has certified that the AT80B is in compliance with the CJIS Division’s Next Generation Identification System Image Quality Specifications (IQS): EBTS Mobile ID FAP 45 Appendix F Specifications,” explains Richard Lane, AMREL Vice President of Strategic Business Development. “It meets or exceeds the criteria for for Single & Dual Finger Flat & Rolled Print which means it can access the FBI’s Next Generation Identification (NGI) database.”

AMREL developed the AT80B in cooperation with Integrated Biometrics. Fingerprints are captured by the industry-leading Sherlock, an Integrated Biometrics module which utilizes a state-of-the-art Light Emitting Sensor.  This sensor is fully rugged, uses little power, needs less maintenance than traditional methods, and captures FAP-45 quality images.

“Integrated Biometrics is proud that our LES technology is part of the Flexpedient® AT80B Rugged Biometric Tablet, a rugged device serving mobile identity needs in any environment,” said Mike Grimes, President of Integrated Biometrics.

This rugged tablet is designed to meet MIL-STD 810G and boasts an unusually durable IP67 rating. Built from the ground-up to be rugged, it is far tougher than a commercial tablet in a hardened case.

“The Flexpedient® AT80B Biometric Tablet is built on the AT80 platform,” explains Kalvin Chen, AMREL’s VP of Operations. “AT80’s unique channel design enables true off-the-shelf customization in a short period of time. The two-finger biometric sensor was added in less than a week.

AMREL plans to leverage AT80B’s customization capabilities in order to serve the Law Enforcement community. For example, a smart card reader can be easily and quickly integrated into the AT80B platform. AMREL is exploring adding an iris camera.

When asked about this biometric device, Assistant Chief William ‘Bill’ Leist (Ret) California Highway Patrol replied, “The AT80B is designed to fit the needs of modern law enforcement. The enrollment capability for high quality fingerprint capture will save officers from making unnecessary trips to booking stations. Furthermore, its exceptional ruggedness will ensure it will not break down at critical times.”

Although special measures were taken to assist the Public Safety community, the AT80B is designed for use in a variety of situations. For example, this biometric tablet is being used by professional sports franchises to fast track VIP admissions at games. Another example is the Youth Detention Authority in South Africa, which has piloted the AT80B to verify visitors and track residents at facilities across the country.

Standard features include Android 4.3 (Jelly Bean), 8” 10-point multi-touch capacitive touchscreen display, front/back 5 MP cameras, 802.11 b/g/n, GPS, and Bluetooth®.

Learn more at: computers.amrel.com/at80b

AMREL at SOFIC 2016

sofic 2016.jpg v2

Special Forces need logistics friendly, lightweight mobile computer solutions that never fail, even in the harshest conditions. AMREL’s ultra-rugged SlimLine meet the special needs of Special Forces.

Learn more about:

Make your appointment today to see these and other exciting SlimLine products at SOFIC!

Contact Javier Camarillo, AMREL’s Senior Applications Engineer, at

(800) 882 -6735  or javierc@amrel.com.

 

 

 

Winners & Losers in the Defense Budget

A recent blog post described the phenomenon of the “Bow Wave” and its importance to Defense spending priorities. AMREL takes its responsibility of supplying mobile computing solutions to warfighters seriously, so we keep a close eye on how Defense allocates its resources.

Under the “Bow Wave’s” influence, who are the winners and losers? Take a look at what the well-respected experts at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) are predicting to be the top acquisition programs.

Defense 2

Defense Modernization Plans through 2020

A cursory analysis reveals that the Air Force, specifically aircraft acquisition (even more specifically the F-35) is the big “Bow Wave” winner.

“The Air Force is the largest contributor to the overall modernization Bow Wave. … funding for Air Force major acquisition programs is projected to grow by 73 percent in real terms from FY 2015 to its projected peak in FY 2023. This growth is driven primarily by aircraft programs. The Air Force’s three largest programs in terms of funding are the F-35A Joint Strike Fighter, Long Range Strike-Bomber (LRS-B), and KC- 46A aerial refueling tanker.”

Defense Modernization Plans through 2020

In spite of the presence of some big-ticket seafaring items on the above chart, the CSIS claims that the Navy and Marines do not much to look forward to in their future, at least according to a strict “Bow Wave’ analysis. However, I have doubts this will prove to be true. For one thing, they have plans:

“The Navy has been able to modernize by incorporating economically efficient capabilities, but much remains to be done. The sea service is making significant investments in aviation, he (Adm. Mulloy) noted, but it needs the RAQ-25 unmanned aerial vehicle quickly. Other critical capabilities include the SM-6, the LRASM, the HVP and maritime TACTOM.”

Signal

If things heat up in the South China Sea, I suspect the Navy won’t have any problems getting funding.

The CSIS analysis says that the Army will be another big winner.

“The Army’s budget for major acquisition programs is projected to increase 28 percent in real terms from FY 2015 to the peak in FY 2022. The Army’s plans indicate a significant Bow Wave in funding for ground systems…

“… the Army plans to ramp up funding for five major vehicle programs over the next five years… The largest of these programs is the Joint Light Tactical Vehicle (JLTV), a replacement for the Humvee. The program plans to reach full rate production of 2,200 vehicles per year by FY 2040. The Army is also developing the Armored Multi- Purpose Vehicle (AMPV), with low rate production planned to begin in FY 2020 and a total planned procurement of 2,897 vehicles. Programs are also planned to replace the Paladin self-propelled Howitzer, to upgrade Abrams tanks, and to modernize the fleet of Bradley Infantry Fighting Vehicles. Together these programs will increase funding for the Army’s major ground systems nearly threefold between FY 2015 an FY 2021.

“The Army has several modernization programs for communications systems planned as well. The Warfighter Information Network-Tactical (WIN-T) plans to continue fielding Increment 2 capabilities… The Army also plans to ramp up production of two variants of the Joint Tactical Radio System (JTRS): the Handheld, Manpack, and Small Form Fit (HMS radio and the Airborne, Maritime, and Fixed (AMF) radio. Having already experienced cost overruns, schedule slips, and many program changes, these three major Army communications programs are poised to more than double in funding between FY 2015 and FY 2021.”

Defense Modernization Plans through 2020

Then there are the non-service specific programs that can be expected to be well-funded. For example, cyber security will be favored in the budget process.

“Cyber right now is the cat’s meow—a notion sure to keep funding flowing for technological solutions, at least in the near term, to counter the emerging threats, according to Col. Gary Salmans, USAF, senior materiel leader of the Cryptologic and Cyber Systems Division within the Air Force Materiel Command.”

Signal

“President Barack Obama championed cybersecurity efforts Tuesday in seeking $19 billion for the cause as part of his fiscal year 2017 budget proposal. …The budget proposal for FY17, which begins October 1, is a 35 percent increase over the current fiscal year.”

Signal

Everybody loves SOCOM, so expect them to be eating steak, not hamburger. Space is being heavily militarized, so that’s another market Defense vendors should consider.

“In its enduring space race to narrow the materializing gap between the United States and peer competitors, the Air Force’s fiscal year 2017 budget emphasizes sustaining mission capabilities and improving space resilience by investing in command and control programs, situational awareness technologies, expendable launch systems and satellite communications.”

Signal

“U.S. officials to make recent bold leaps in their approaches, including establishing the Joint Interagency Combined Space Operations Center and making the Air Force secretary the principal DoD space adviser. With a goal to shift the Air Force’s space culture to one of warfighting, the center and the service secretary’s office will oversee a five-year, $5 billion budget increase for industry and allies to test new capabilities.”

Signal

 If I wanted to pick the fattest single Defense target, I would say it was retrofitting.

“Upgrades and retrofits of existing programs appear to give the greatest number of opportunities for COTS systems. These are often replacing proprietary systems for more open standards that are ultimately easier and cheaper to maintain going forward.”

Robert Day, Vice President, Sales & Marketing, Lynx Software Technologies,  Military Embedded Systems

The military can’t afford new stuff, so they want to make the old stuff last longer. At AMREL, we are very excited about this opportunity.  Our platform flexibility, extensive technical support, and customization capabilities make us a very good fit for this. In fact, many of the programs favored by the “Bow Wave” (communication, vehicles, SOCOM, etc.) present excellent opportunities for us and our partners.

For over 30 years, AMREL has been proud to provide mobile computer solutions for American Defense needs. Whatever requirements arise, you can be sure that we will be there to meet them.

New Rugged Mobile Network Equipment Saves Space & Power

AMREL announced that it is launching two new lines of rugged mobile network communication equipment:  HalfRack 19” and FullRack 19”.

“AMREL is mostly known for its mobile rugged computing solutions,” explains Kalvin Chen, AMREL’s Vice President of Operations.  “Our tablets, laptops and handhelds have been used for over 30 years by warfighters around the world.

“Working with multiple rugged mobile IT equipment suppliers can be a challenge for our clients.  To simplify procurement and technical hurdles in development and system integration, we have greatly expanded our offerings. Our goal is to provide one-stop convenience by supplying an unusually extensive line of rugged mobile network communication equipment.”

Equipment in AMREL’s HalfRack 19” line are fully rugged and fully functional, but only ¼ the size of normal rack-mounted devices. This compact form factor saves space, reduces heat, and decreases energy use. The HalfRack 19″ line includes switches, routers, network attached storage, VoIP, video matrix, and PDU.

AMREL is also supplying the rack-mounted, full-sized FullRack 19″ line. These fully rugged products include servers, computers, all-in-one, Cisco-based switches, routers, IP-phone, firewall, and KVM.

Both HalfRack 19” and FullRack 19” lines are designed to operate in the most challenging environments. They both fully comply with military’s ruggedness standards, including MIL-STD 810, MIL-STD 461, and MIL-STD 1275D. There is also an option for TEMPEST SDIP-27 Level A, B, or C.

In addition to the HalfRack 19” and FullRack 19” lines, AMREL is offering rack-mounted rugged displays, mini keyboards, power distribution unit, power supplies, accessories, and other peripherals.

See the updated product lines at: computers.amrel.com/rugged-mobile-network-equipment.