Law enforcement officials searching for an easier way to confirm someone’s identity may have a solution in sight. A new device is nearing the mass production stage that combines iris, facial and fingerprint recognition scanning into a smartphone, giving nearly instantaneous identification results to an officer using it in the field.

First tested in 2010, the handheld Mobile Offender Recognition and Information System (MORIS) connects to a smartphone and allows a user to take a snapshot of a person’s face or iris, or a fingerprint scan, and then transmit the data over a secure wireless network to a national database. If a match is found, seconds later the officer using the device is given confirmation on the person in question, including any previous criminal history.

The biometric technology itself isn’t new. Created by Biometric Intelligence and Identification (BI2) Technologies, MORIS is based on the company’s Inmate Identification and Recognition System (IRIS), which has been used at jails and detention centers for the past few years to identify and record the scans and information of inmates and sex offenders.

Sean Mullin, CEO of BI2 Technologies, said the smallest IRIS device weighs 12 to 15 pounds and had to be tethered to a server or laptop. But after getting some feedback from clients that agencies wanted their officers to have the same functionality in the field, his company focused on miniaturizing its product and combining all three scans — iris, face and fingerprint — into a mobile platform.

In comparison to the MORIS devices that were tested in 2010, Mullin said the ergonomics were changed from a “boxy” configuration to a more hand-friendly shape. Another change included decreasing the amount of steps required in the capture recognition process.

“The fewer times the user has to hit a button or type something in, the better,” Mullin said. “I think we reduced it down to ... about three button clicks.”

The company is in the process of getting its app and the MORIS hardware approved for use on Android devices and Apple’s iPhone. BI2 will also assemble and produce the finished device. The total price for each unit, including the smartphone, will be roughly $3,000, plus an annual maintenance fee, which Mullin priced at approximately 18 percent of the acquisition price.

Mullin said MORIS should be ready for a full rollout by early fall and will be available only to government agencies and officials.

“It’s a game-changer for law enforcement,” said Paul Babeu, sheriff of Pinal County Ariz., who recently saw a demo of the mobile system at a meeting of Arizona sheriffs.

Babeu said that because his jurisdiction is larger than the state of Connecticut, it can sometimes take officers up to two hours to get back to the main office to verify someone’s identity. But with MORIS, Babeu is confident officers will be able to get that information in seconds and know what type of person they are dealing with, from minor offenders to wanted terrorists, and take the appropriate actions.

“The greatest benefit is timeliness,” Babeu said. “In 10 to 15 seconds you’re going to find out if that person is in our database.”

Mullin said an iris scan sent over the network will usually yield a result in five to seven seconds, depending on whether a person is located in a building or out in the open. Facial recognition results take a bit longer, averaging from 45 seconds to just more than a minute. Fingerprint results can vary as well, but take typically around a minute, according to Mullin.

Making a Connection

The algorithms used by IRIS and MORIS scan matches through various law enforcement databases. Mullin said fingerprints and facial recognition scans are compared against the Integrated Automated Fingerprint Identification System (IAFIS) biometric database, which is maintained by the FBI.

The FBI database contains mug shot photos, fingerprints and criminal history for more than 66 million people, including fingerprints from 73,000 known and suspected terrorists, according to the FBI’s website.

Mullin and Babeu both called scans of a person’s iris the most accurate form of identification, however, iris scans taken by MORIS are judged against a completely separate records system. That information resides in a system built by BI2 Technologies in conjunction with the National Sheriffs’ Association.

While Mullin said the iris database doesn’t have as many records nor is as widely used as IAFIS, he expects that to change over time.

“To give you an idea, it is getting filled quickly and in a period [from] November and December 2010 to January 2011, this database performed 3.12 billion cross-matches successfully without one false match,” Mullin said.

Babeu, whose department currently uses IRIS, was confident in the accuracy of the system and the technology behind it. “There has not been one false positive,” Babeu said regarding scans taken by his department using IRIS. “Every part of the information has been accurate.”

Looking Ahead

MORIS, however, does have at least one drawback. It can’t simultaneously take and submit all three channels of information — iris, facial, fingerprint — and get one all-encompassing result. But Mullin hinted that advancement could be on the horizon.

“Today, except for what we are working on — in some let’s call it ‘department of defense-type intelligence applications,’ which are not publicly available — no one has put together what we call the ‘fusion’ algorithm,” Mullin said.

Babeu said he hasn’t seen anything else out there in the market that provides this sort of mobile technology and revealed that he has already placed an order for 75 MORIS devices. But he also added that a lot more law enforcement agencies need to commit to the technology for it to really become a force multiplier across the country.

“My only concern is that there is a building time,” Babeu said. “Even though we’re fully embracing it ... for this to work to its maximum potentially, we need to roll this out nationally.”

Brian Heaton  |  Senior Writer

Brian Heaton is a senior writer for Government Technology. He primarily covers technology legislation and IT policy issues. Brian started his journalism career in 1998, covering sports and fitness for two trade publications based in Long Island, N.Y. He's also a member of the Professional Bowlers Association, and competes in regional tournaments throughout Northern California and Nevada.