Facial recognition: From DNA to DMV … to jail?

Police have long had access to fingerprint and DNA data bases … usually ‘populated’ by criminals and suspects.

On occasion, crime scene DNA samples have been matched to genealogical traits directly or indirectly — by honing in on family member DNA profiles.

See DNA search used to nab Golden State Killer

Increasingly, facial recognition is being used to track down suspects and potential witnesses.

imageSource: Parabon Nanolabs

There have 2 recently revealed advances on the facial recognition front that have moved the technology to a higher and more controversial level.


Earlier this week, the Washington Post reported that the FBI and ICE have turned state driver’s license databases into a facial-recognition gold mine and a routine investigative tool, regularly used to track down suspects.

More specifically:21 states, including Texas and Pennsylvania, plus the District of Columbia, allow federal agencies such as the FBI to scan driver’s license photos … the local, state and federal databases contain more than 641 million face photos.

The FBI says that its system is 86% accurate at matching  to the right person.


OK, that works when the Feds have a picture in hand and are just trying to match it to a name … and maybe an address.

What about situations when the Feds have a crime scene DNA sample but no picture of the suspected perp?

Simple, just generate a phenotype and match it to the photo files.

Say, what?

Start with the basics…

The phenotype of an organism is the composite of an organism’s observable characteristics or traits, including its morphology or physical form and structure. Source

In other words, it a ‘rough cut’ of a face that’s generated through a process called phenotyping.

Phenotyping is the process of predicting an organism’s phenotype using only genetic information collected from genotyping or DNA sequencing. Source

English translation: Use a crime scene DNA sample to construct an image of what the DNA-owner looks like.

A company called Parabon Nanolabs does just that for law enforcement agencies.

See the image above, or go to Parabon’s web site for examples and a walk-thru of the phenotyping process..

With a phenotype in hand, just scan against a photo file, and sometimes … BINGO!


Recapping: Construct a massive photo database (like the DMV file) … use crime scene DNA to approximate a suspect’s facial structure (via DNA phenotyping) … match the phenotype to a picture in the photo file … capture the perp.

It’s that easy.


Follow on Twitter @KenHoma

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