EAB webinar examines facial recognition for criminal investigations in EU countries

A recent European Association for Biometrics (EAB) webinar explored the role of facial recognition technologies in criminal investigations in EU member states.

The presentation focused particularly on analyzing the results of the EU-funded TELEFI (Towards the European Level Exchange of Facial Images) project.

The biometrics initiative saw the collaboration of a number of European institutions, including the Estonian Institute of Forensic Sciences, the Estonian Police and Border Guard Board and the Finnish National Bureau of Investigation.

In addition, the Latvian National Bureau of Forensic Science, the Netherlands Institute of Forensic Medicine and the Swedish National Center for Forensic Medicine.

The TELEFI webinar featured Prof. Dr. Didier Meuwly, Senior Researcher at the Netherlands Forensic Institute (NFI) and Chair of Forensic Biometrics at the University of Twente, and Andra Sirgmets from the Estonian Institute forensic science.

Expand biometric options for criminal investigations

According to existing European regulations, DNA profiles, fingerprint biometrics and vehicle registration data are currently exchanged between Member States via the Prüm framework.

These guidelines were established in 2005 and have been used by Member States to combat international crime, terrorism and illegal migration.

The Prüm system has evolved over the last decade and it has reached a point where the EU is considering the introduction of new modalities, including facial recognition.

With this in mind, the TELEFI project explored the administrative and law enforcement use of facial recognition in criminal investigations, provided a summary of the project and presented the recommendations to EU Member States.

Explore database and legal framework issues

According to Sirgmets, in 2020 there were 11 EU states where facial recognition for criminal investigations was implemented, and seven more were expected to complete implementation by the end of 2021.

In these countries, the technology was mainly used to identify suspects by extracting images from CCTV and analyzing them through a facial recognition system.

The forensic expert then explored how image databases were and are selected in EU member states.

She clarified that these databases primarily store images of suspects and convicted persons, not the general public (although they may include photos of missing persons, for example).

Although it is used in several EU member states, Sirgmets added, automated facial recognition currently only has a dedicated legal framework in Hungary. In all other EU countries, the analysis of facial images using automated systems is permitted by several laws and implementing acts.

TELEFI project: Recommendations

The webinar then continued with Meuwly speaking and exploring recommendations based on the results of the TELEFI project.

The first, explained Meuwly, concerns the harmonization of the field of facial recognition at European level, and according to six criteria.

These are respectively an agreement on the standard and quality requirements for control images, on the methodology of facial recognition research, on the training of human operators in proficiency tests for identification research, and on reports and common terminology.

The second recommendation coming out of the TELEFI project, according to Meuwly, is that the promotion of interoperability of civil and criminal processes related to facial recognition would benefit from harmonization in different terms.

In this regard, he specifically cited facial image quality standards, database management, manual face comparison methods, and candidate list review methodology.

The third set of recommendations mentioned by Meuwly concerns the creation of a forensic working group for the coordination of the harmonization process, while the fourth concerns the application of quality recommendations linked to the quality standards for the methodology of facial image capture, face search quality and methodology.

The fifth concerns the establishment of a large database of facial images for future work in the criminal field.

Additional recommendations arising from the TELEFI project concerns the introduction of facial images into the Prüm system, but only after testing the database using decentralized tools.

At the end of the TELEFI project, a report will be published and a conference will be organized to share the results of the initiative in order to stimulate discussion on the implementation of facial recognition for criminal investigations in EU Member States .

Article topics

biometric identification | biometrics | biometric search | criminal identification | eBike | EU | European Association for Biometrics | facial recognition | forensic medicine | law enforcement | standards | TELEFI

Mark M. Gagnon