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Biometric Identification: Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

1. Why isn’t DNA enough?
DNA by itself is an imperfect method for human identification. DNA is susceptible to degradation by environmental factors such as humidity which compromise the integrity of the sample and the ability to obtain accurate identification. It cannot be used to distinguish between identical twins (who share the same DNA profile). Finally, DNA samples could be inadvertently switched or mislabeled during processing or analysis, which, in the absence of other biometric information, could go undetected. Our process ties together all the Biometric Identification information to guarantee integrity and reliability in the complete package of data.

Although DNA is the state-of-the art method for human identification in many situations, it has limitations as well. First, DNA is not an effective method for human identification in catastrophic situations in which blood or other tissues from a number of individuals may be co-mingled, or in cases in which multiple members from the same family are involved. Second, DNA analysis is not readily available in all parts of the world; of the 196 countries in the world, less than half have forensic laboratories and even fewer have DNA laboratories. This can impose an unacceptably long delay in identifying an individual.

2. How does SFE biometric identification compare to what is already available?
The current system of death identification relies on after the fact investigation, which relies on gather DNA samples from toothbrushes, obtaining fingerprints from arrest records and/or personal items, collecting family photos, and obtaining dental records and x-rays. This method is slow and inaccurate, and important information may be unavailable. Once biometric information is gathered it must be submitted to agency/government investigating the death. Evidence processing can be delayed, which delays identification of the victim.

Microchips have become available as source of identifying information. In some circumstances, this approach is adequate; however, particularly in the case of kidnap/ransom, the existence of a chip may actually prove detrimental, as kidnappers will go to great lengths to remove it without regard to the comfort or safety of the victim

Some countries may only have visual recognition of a body as an accepted practice for victim identification; this unscientific approach has been proven inaccurate in several different occasions.  This can cause numerous issues, legal, embarrassment and undue distress.

Personal effects can assist in identification but can be attributed to the wrong body because they are loose objects, mistakenly or intentionally.  These are valuable circumstantial evidence but never proof of identification. 

3. Will these tests reveal anything about medical conditions?
No. The tests use as part of our biometric identification services are not related to medical conditions but rather are characteristics that you are born with and that do not change. The DNA profile we use focuses only on a small portion of the gene – the portion of the human genome that is not related to any known characteristic. No one can look at your DNA profile and determine if you are susceptible to a particular disease. It is this reason that these locations on the genome were selected for DNA databases in the first place.

4. How will privacy be protected?
The details of information storage and protection will be outlined in detail in a consent document that you will be asked to sign prior to data collection. Once the information is collected, it will be stored in a secure computer system accessible only to designated employees. Information on an individual will be stored under a unique number. This number will be required in order for anyone to access the records for that individual. The link between the unique number and an individual’s identity will only be accessible to a small number of individuals who have been trained on the system. It is also important to remember that no one will know that you have had a biometric identification profile developed and stored unless you tell them.

5. Can’t I use my military or other public records for identification?
No. Military and other public records often become unavailable and when available, may be difficult to access. For example, more than 35 million records on military personnel were destroyed in a 1973 fire at a St. Louis military facility. In addition, such records contain only select information, typically not collected by subject matter experts, and their reliability for human identification is questionable even when they are available. Civil and criminal records are frequently incomplete and low quality.

6. Will people have access to my medical records?
No. The biometric information collected is not a part of your medical record and is not linked to it in any way as part of our routine process, with one exception. We will request information on any surgical implants you have and will include that in your profile. All implants have serial numbers that can be traced back to an individual, so this information can be helpful in identification. We will also document any scars or identifying marks that may help us to identify you, but this information will not be collected from your medical record.

7. How might biometric identification data be misused?
The SFE Biometric Identification profile is designed to be used to identify our customers in specified scenarios. The data would not be used for criminal activity such as identify theft. Your data will be protected in a manner explained to your satisfaction before it is gathered.

8. Who will have access to the biometric identification?
Access to your Biometric Identification profile will be strictly guarded and occur only under the terms and conditions for which you have given consent. Because every client is different we will design a data storage and access plan that meets your needs.

9. What happens an individual stops working for the company that paid for the biometric identification?
The specifics related to ownership of the information will be explained in the consent form specific to each employer or client. Our recommendation to employers is that they allow employees leaving the company to take their information with them. The information is of little use to the employer once the employee is gone. However, the decision will be up to each employer and the arrangement regarding release of information will be negotiated with employees ahead of time.