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Dissertation Proposal: Advantages and Disadvantages of Biometrics in Forensic Examinations
Biometrics have been predicted as being “one of the top ten emerging technologies that will change the world” (Woodward et al., 2003, p. xxiii). Biometrics have frequently been represented as technologies with extraordinary powers, with various important applications such as in the areas of defence(Aydoğdu, 2013), authentication(Kanev et al., 2016) and forensic investigations(Jain and Ross, 2015). Their uses in national security began to take precedence after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001(Bolle et al., 2013). This research project therefore seeks to take a more pragmatic approach to the study of biometrics in evaluating both their advantages and benefits as well as their disadvantages. There are many flaws for example in the basic premise of biometrics which will be explored (Pugliese, 2012).
Biometric systems are technologies that scan a subject’s physiological, chemical or other behavioural characteristics in order to verify or authenticate their identity (Pugliese, 2012). This involves a three stage process: first the biometric imaging system creates an “imprint” of its subject, such as a facial scan, an image of the facial features which records the subject’s unique biometric characteristics(Pugliese, 2012). The facial scan is then converted into a ‘template’; through the use of algorithms. The subjects unique biometric characteristics are then stored for comparison with later scans in which the individuals identity is verified by reference to the initial template (Pugliese, 2012).
Biometrics have a variety of uses, however, the specific emphasis of this research project will be the use of biometrics in forensic investigations. Forensic investigations involve the collection of physical or digital evidence and aim to achieve the reliability, certainty and authority of a scientific enquiry in order to deliver evidence for a legal process upon which a prosecution can be based where a crime has been committed. (Turvey and Crowder, 2017). The use of biometrics thus enables the use of computational techniques to automate and replace earlier manual approaches to forensic examinations. The use of biometrics in identification of criminal perpetrators is regarded as a fundamental shift in the way that crimes are investigated with the advantages of improving accuracy, reliability and speed of application in forensic investigations (Saini and Kapoor, 2016).
Literature Review
Research has shown how the science of biometrics has been applied within the field of forensic applications in which effective identification is central to the presentation of evidence. Such techniques can show that a crime has been committed and help in the identification of the criminal(Saini and Kapoor, 2016). Conventional approaches to criminal investigation are time-consuming, resulting in a lot of delay and often inefficient, leading to high expenditure. The need to automate the crime investigation procedure is identified that can provide accurate and reliable methods to detect crime(Saini and Kapoor, 2016).
Biometrics have been used within the identification process of a suspect through the use of his or her physical characteristics, including their finger prints, face, hand geometry, iris(physiological), voice and signature(behavioural)(Bolle et al., 2013). Identifiers that are used less frequently or that are still in the early stages of research include DNA, ear shape, odour, retina, skin reflectance, Thermogram(physiological), gait, keystroke and lip motion (behavioural)(Bolle et al., 2013). These characteristics are measurable and are unique characteristics that can be used to identify both living and/or deceased individuals(Sauerwein et al., 2017). Biometric systems are made of five integrated modules: sensor module, feature extraction module, matcher module, decision-making module and systems based module(Arunalatha and Ezhilarasan, 2016).
Biometric technology is regarded as capable of contributing to the detection of crime through associating traces of individuals found at the scene of a crime with identification markers of individuals stored in a database (Saini and Kapoor, 2016). Biometric techniques have also been used post mortem in the identification of unknown individuals. Ever improving digital imaging capabilities have led to more efficient capturing of biometric data, making it more practical to consider data as a part of the biological profile of human remains (Sauerwein et al., 2017).
There are a large number of research studies regarding the variety of techniques use in biometric analyses. Bouchrika et al (2011) have considered the use of gait in forensic biometrics, using the locations of the ankle, knee and hip to drive a measure of matches between walking subjects and image sequences. Their location is determined by reference to the Instantaneous Posture Match algorithm, Harr templates, kinematics and anthropomorphic information, finding that individuals could be identified on CCTV images from the way that they walk or run (Bouchrika et al., 2011). Fingerprints are commonly for identification however; the investigation process has typically carried out manually by fingerprint experts. Kärgel et al (2012) find that matching speeds for automatic biometric identification of fingerprints was sufficient, but that error rates were too high for applying the matches in a forensic context(Kärgel et al., 2012).
Benzaoui et al (2014) have also researched the potential for automated personal identification using the shape of the ear, since the ear pattern can provide rich and stable information to differentiate and recognise people. The researchers evaluated the use of various methods including local texture descriptors, including local binary patterns, local phase quantization and binarised statistical image features for robust human identification from two-dimensional ear images(Benzaoui et al., 2014). The authors found local descriptors based on small local image patches are more effective under real-world conditions than the use of global image descriptors(Benzaoui et al., 2014). There is a great deal of research therefore that has focused upon specific potential uses of biometrics within forensic investigations; each one however, has shown weaknesses in the techniques which requires further research.
Biometric systems are also vulnerable to certain types of attack, for example at the sensor level using fake inputs(Arunalatha and Ezhilarasan, 2016). General mechanisms of computer attacks are also relevant to biometric systems making identification in forensic examinations; spoofing refers to the fraudulent action by an unauthorised person into biometric systems using fake input to reproduce an authorised persons biometric input(Arunalatha and Ezhilarasan, 2016).
It is clear that while biometrics have shown great potential to be used in forensic investigations, there are also specific weaknesses associated with the particular uses. The gap in the literature that has been identified therefore is an overview of the various methods and their applications in forensic sciences which focuses on the advantages and disadvantages of a variety of methods.
Importance of Research
The importance of this research therefore is to understand the contribution that can be made by biometric technologies to the advancement of forensic science in detecting the perpetrators of crimes. As has been discussed there remain many weaknesses to be address in these developing techniques, the research seeks to evaluate the current state of developments of biometric technologies in relation to forensic examinations as well as consider future potential directions.
Aims and Objectives
The aim of the research is to evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of current trends in biometric science and its application within forensic examinations. In order to further this, aim the following objectives will be pursued:
To evaluate the current trends in biometrics and possible applications
To focus specifically on the advantages of biometric methods in forensic investigations
To evaluate the shortcomings of the various approaches as well as methods to overcome these.
The research study will adopt a qualitative methodology; it aims to evaluate the current trends in biometric technologies through reference to academic journals, conference papers and academic texts. The methodology includes a secondary analysis of existing research studies into biometric methods for identification. The advantage of secondary analysis is that it enables the researcher to spend more time on the analysis and interpretation of data than in primary research methods (Bryman, 2015). Reference will be made to various journal databases including ACM Digital Library, IEEE Xplore, SCOPUS, and ProQuest, using search terms such as ‘biometrics’, ‘identification’, ‘authentication’ and ‘forensic investigations’. Searched literature will be limited to the previous 10 years so that only current methods are researched. Due to the limitations of the current project including word count, it is unlikely that all biometric applications will be fully investigated. However, after a thorough search of the current literature is undertaken, the most relevant studies will be extracted for further investigation.
Chapter Outline
Chapter 1 will introduce the themes and provide background to the study of biometrics along with an overview of the requirements of forensic examinations.
Chapter 2 will consider the advantages of the use of biometric technologies in forensic examinations, including examining existing methods and how biometrics can improve the automation as well as accuracy of identification of suspects as well as victims of crime.
Chapter 3 will evaluate the shortcomings of current biometric techniques in relation to forensic examinations and the problems that need to be overcome in ensuring that such technologies provide reliable evidence upon which prosecutions can be based.
Chapter 4 will provide an overall conclusion to the research question regarding the advantages and disadvantages of biometric technologies in forensic examinations. It will draw conclusions and recommendations as to how the identified difficulties might be overcome and lead to conclusions as to further avenues of research

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