Extending Law Enforcement Field Reporting, Data Acquisition and Intelligence Through Portable Biometrics

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3Q 2021 | IN-6280

Biometric identification systems are looking to evolve into more portable means, aiming to be more accessible and involve less contact post-COVID.

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The Emergence of Portable Biometrics


The emergence of portable biometric devices in the law enforcement, public safety, and border control markets is forcing the industry to adopt newer, more innovative biometric handheld devices for field agents and security personnel. While overall adoption for portable biometric devices in the law enforcement market has not been particularly boisterous (at least compared with other biometric hardware devices used for suspect registration and identification), ABI Research expects that portable biometric devices will increase in popularity with law enforcement agencies worldwide as part of the negotiation process of new tenders with security and defense contractors.

The new wave of portable biometric devices is expected to be equipped with new hardware and software features focusing on data acquisition, field reporting, and superior intelligence processes. In turn, pricing models and return on investment (ROI) for these devices will also shift to adopt a more holistic intelligence-based approach aimed at supporting overarching criminal database applications for law enforcement agencies and, in certain countries (depending on infrastructure, personnel training, and defense budget), have a significant effect in the procurement of new devices, maintenance, and operational support down the line.

Identification Capabilities


Portable biometric devices used in law enforcement include mostly handheld lightweight versions, primarily used to perform biometric data capture, identification, and various verifications in the field. For example, in law enforcement this can include identifying a suspect while on duty, in border control they can be used for ID verification and immigration processes, or in federal and criminal investigations highly specialized devices can be used for latent analysis, forensic examination, and multimodal biometric capture.

The key value proposition is to extend field reporting through various identification operations, enhance operational versatility by increasing the range of applications and use-case for biometric ID, and increase personnel collaboration by allowing fast and streamlined connection for police, country, or federal systems and related agency services. There is a wide array of portable devices which include different specifications, connectivity options, and, unsurprisingly, vast differences in ASPs. This can include quite lightweight versions that connect via mini-USB to existing smartphones or tablets used by law enforcement personnel; Bluetooth-connected devices; passport, smartcard and security document readers; lower-tier fingerprint-only devices; or more versatile fingerprint, face, iris, and security document readers (or any combination thereof); highly specialized HD and latent examination devices; and even biometric cases or jump kits which include various biometric scanners, laptops, cameras, or other registration devices.

Portability, Feature Availability, Contactless and Connectivity Characteristics


ABI Research rates the utility of portable biometric devices used in law enforcement on the following categories: portability aspects, contactless capabilities, hardware specifications, and related feature availability – as examined in the recently published AN-5245 Biometrics in Law Enforcement. Portability relates to hardware, software, and connectivity specifications including to the quite important (but sometimes overlooked) aspects related to the actual level of compactness and convenience, device weight, battery life, ruggedized design, waterproof and dustproof, ease of use, and connectivity dependencies. Feature availability relates to all the necessary, mission-critical, or simply “good-to-have” optional features depending on target application. These include features like liveness detection, smart card reader, barcode or other digital identity reader, sensor quality, fingerprint features like flats or rolled prints capture, direct cellular communication with AFIS/ABIS or with local server or police vehicle gateway to cross-reference suspect ID, multimodal biometric capabilities, and ability to capture high-quality face and iris images.

Contactless capabilities relate to a prominent feature in the post-COVID era that understandably gained significant traction. Contactless biometric capture might be seemingly unattainable on-premises (e.g., in police stations or correctional facilities) due to the specific FBI-certified tenprint devices that are expected to be utilized and have no flexibility when it comes to hygiene when booking a suspect due to operational requirements (i.e., contact-only flats and rolled prints). However, contactless non-sensor use-cases have emerged during the last five years and have gained increased popularity since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Finally, it is important to note that portable biometric devices in law enforcement are expected to be incorporated as part of the larger Automated Biometric Identification System (ABIS) database list of services and operate under a centralized storage model. Localized data storage for biometric information in portable electronics is hailed as a standard security practice in the consumer market and was in fact the very foundation for the incubation of the FIDO Alliance. The local data storage practice for PII (personal identifiable information) and biometric data protects user identity in the event of a database breach. Although the recent technological trends are steadily moving towards more centralized biometric applications, local storage is still considered an easier alternative from a hardware perspective and a more secure one from a customer protection point of view. However, when it comes to government and security markets, it is expected that centralized data storage will not only increase steadily until 2025 but additional novel applications will flourish that will utilize this exact feature.