Palm readers to the rescue in Australia

Advanced biometrics and nationwide databases containing information on DNA will be used to beef up Australian law enforcement agencies as part of an effort to tighten department collaboration investigations by July 2008.

Under the plan, state law enforcement agencies will supply DNA and personal information into the National Criminal Investigation DNA Database (NCIDD) from cold cases to persons of interest, which includes those people with outstanding warrants or even holders of firearms permits.

At the federal level, DNA information will be separated from personal information like names and addresses and will be stored in alphanumeric strings within the NCIDD.

The “junk DNA” data is then forwarded to the state agencies which link the information to criminal records.

National criminal database CrimTrac CEO Ben McDevitt said the government has given legs to the National NCIDD through a mandate which will increase its user base of police officers from 15,000 to 50,000 in less than 12 months.

“Users already have access to the old National Name Index, which provides only basis criminal information, and we will merely transfer the (35,000) identities over,” McDevitt said.

“We are using facial recognition, deep palm and iris reading, fingerprinting, identity searching and matching, but there are real issues with passing the information around through departments.”

McDevitt said the intent of officers accessing the NCIDD can’t be guaranteed. CrimTrac can monitor access and changes to data and can record keystrokes made whenever the system is accessed.

Familial matching will be deployed along with kinship matching as part of the project to assist criminal investigations. The technology, which helped arrest 43 suspects involved in the 2002 Bali bombings, will use the NCIDD to link suspects’ DNA profiles to natural relatives.

According to McDevitt, palm prints will improve the investigation capabilities of law enforcement because they represent one in four prints at a crime scene.

“I would argue that it is likely you would eventually need to supply your finger or palm prints to get your passport at the Post Office,” he said.

He said the technology has solved more than 18,000 crimes since its inception, and claimed the Australian Department of Defense houses the world’s largest database of palm prints.

The South Australia Police is spearheading the upgrades to the NCIDD by uploading some 3000 profiles tied to cold cases.

CrimTrac’s inter-governmental agreement requires the agency to deliver four new database systems to improve information sharing between police and government agencies. The Canberra-based agency has 145 staff and has operated under the Attorney General’s department since its formation in 2001.

The database may be updated with the histories of non-criminals, including inclination to suicidal tendencies, past registration on a missing persons database, or charges without convictions.

McDevitt said the information would be supplied to “decision makers” to help characterize an individual’s “propensity to commit crime”.

CrimTrac will also overhaul the CrimTrac Police Reference System (CPRS) which is a network that links disparate and legacy national law enforcement databases into a unified system to give police faster access to more comprehensive data relevant to investigations.

The state-owned system is used to access citizen records from state and federal databases, such as the NCIDD, the Australian National Child Offender Register (ANCOR), and the Minimum Nationwide Person Profile (MNPP).

Information such as date of birth, licence numbers, addresses, photographs, DNA samples, fingerprints, clothing and additional comments will be fed from the system into a GUI to be accessed by regional police stations and in vehicle computers.

Police previously used the National Name Index, which displayed rudimentary data such as names of missing person title and a small amount of personal information.

Upgrades to ANCOR may include links to the Australian Customs Passenger Analysis Clearance and Evaluation (PACE) system, and McDevitt expressed interest in creating ties with social networking sites like MySpace.

The National Automated Fingerprint Identification System will continue to operate alongside the use of deep palm reading technology. The system has more than 3.9 million entries in the database housed in the Department of Defense which is accessed through a Federal Police encrypted network.

McDevitt was a Federal Police assistant commissioner for 22 years during which he led operations in the 2002 Bali bombings and in the Solomon Islands peacekeeping effort and has held various roles in criminal investigations and counter-terrorism activities.

Related content:

Britain weaves biometric cloak for tighter border controls

Biometrics battle fraud down under

Encrypt biometric data, urges Ontario privacy czar

Australian state inks five-year shared services deal

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