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Using Facial-Recognition Technology to Track Down the Boston Bombers (and Why Humans Are Still Better at It)

Iris-recognition biometric technology being tested in the Arapahoe County Sheriff's office in Colorado
Iris-recognition biometric technology being tested in the Arapahoe County Sheriff's office in ColoradoPhoto By Kathryn Scott Osler/The Denver Post via Getty Images

It’s still unclear exactly how law enforcement officials zeroed in on the two figures in surveillance footage suspected of carrying out the deadly bomb attack at Monday’s Boston Marathon—figures whom officials have identified as Dzhokhar and Tamerlan Tsarnaev, two young brothers from a family of Chechen immigrants. But it’s likely that investigators used some form of facial-recognition software as part of their effort. These technologies remain in their infancy, but law enforcement is relying on them more and more.

The FBI is rolling out an ambitious, billion-dollar biometric information system that will include iris scans, voice recognition, and facial-recognition software, developed with Lockheed Martin, IBM, Accenture, and BAE Systems, among others. Law enforcement authorities are uploading mugshots into an image database, which can then be searched against images from crime scenes, like the instantly notorious surveillance camera footage of Boston’s Boylston Street. The program will have 12 million searchable images.