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The long arm of the law reaches the ears of biometrics

Avi Blizovsky

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Biometrics is not a new concept in the criminal field: fingerprints have been used to identify criminals for many years. However, researchers from the University of Leicester believe they have found a new way to track criminals - earprints.
The legal criminology unit of the university is developing, in cooperation with the legal services, a computerized method for identifying people based on pictures or prints of the whole ear or parts of it. The method will be used by the police forces, the immigration authorities and the intelligence services.
Criminals usually leave fingerprints at crime scenes, but occasionally they also leave earprints - for example when they put their ear to a door to listen for someone on the other side. The new electronic system for identifying ears will give more reliable and faster results than the manual comparison previously performed by human researchers, and will make it possible to create a national database of ear impressions that will be taken at the border crossings.
According to Prof. Guy Rotti, who heads the forensic criminology unit, "This is a breakthrough in the computerization of identification systems. It will be possible to develop a system similar to the national fingerprint system that is used by police forces to identify criminals around the world."
According to the International Biometric research group, biometrics may be one of the most profitable branches of technology in the future. The company predicts that between the years 2003-2008 the expenses on the technology will reach 1.2 billion dollars per year, with 350 million dollars of which will be invested in fingerprints.
The technology for ear imprinting also attracts the attention of the European Union, which presented in 2002 a project to identify ears for legal purposes, which will begin operating in 2005. The goal is to test the reliability of ear identification and the ability of the technology to help fight crime. As part of the study, over 3,300 ears will be examined.
Ear identification suffered a blow last January, after a verdict that convicted a murderer based on ear identification was overturned by the appeals court. In the ruling it was determined that the identification of the ears relies too much on the information on the judgment of the human examiner. A DNA test carried out afterwards proved that the earprint in which the defendant was convicted in the first instance did not belong to him.
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