In the late 20th and early 21st century criminal justice professionals have benefited from a rapid increase in the development of criminal identification tools. These technological advances are widely viewed as a positive step toward better protecting the public. Improvements in computers, software and the biological and psychological sciences have spurred progress in surveillance and identification techniques. The public now expects the assertive use of these technologies by those involved in criminal justice. There is, however, a contrary view of the usage of new technologies.
Some of the advances may, in fact, be “too good”. They may cause an over-focus on certain individuals, or may encourage law enforcement to do more than what is necessary. In other cases, the technology casts a wide net. Many innocent persons may unknowingly lose their right to privacy during an investigation which may even involve them. In either case, the constitutional rights of people may be at risk. Every time those rights are violated the democracy erodes from within. Technologies of the future must be implemented in criminal justice with full accountability and provisions for ongoing analysis of their effects.
New Technologies- Advantages, Disadvantages and Effects DNA profiling is the most revolutionary criminal identification technique to come out of the late 20th century. Ironically, its greatest value in recent years is determining who did not commit crimes rather than who did. In both cases, its effectiveness continues to improve. Three general types of profiling are used. Restriction Fragment Length Polymorphism (RFLP) is the most discriminating type of testing. Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) testing offers more testing options. Short Tandem Repeat (STR) testing is the newest technique.
This method allows researchers to more quickly analyze and compare multiple genetic markers. DNA identifications are only as good as the labs which conduct the analyses. As efficient as DNA identification can be, there are still potential areas that skilled defense attorneys can exploit. “Contamination, tampering and substitution are also considered, with some of these implying scientific fraud” (O’ Connor, 2006). Interpretation of what the evidence actually does or does not mean can be time consuming and labor intensive. The costliness of DNA analysis is one disadvantage for both the criminal justice system and criminal defendants.
For the system, the price tag and lack of accredited labs can create a backlog of cases. For that reason, gaining test results often takes weeks or months instead of days. Additionally, not all defendants have access to DNA testing because of the cost. DNA identification, facial recognition and other technologies have entered the public consciousness. Television dramas and “true crime” programs have helped to create elevated expectations among jury members. Prosecutors may find it more difficult to gain convictions without scientific evidence pointing directly to the suspect.
Biometric systems of identification have come to greater prominence since the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. These systems employ varied automated systems to identify unique physical and behavioral characteristics. The information gained is then tied to database applications. While some strongly advocate for further implementation of these systems, others feel more consideration is warranted. “Deploying biometric systems without sufficient attention to their dangers makes them likely to be used in a way dangerous to civil liberties” (Abernathy & Tien, 2003).
Facial recognition uses reference points on an individuals face, distance between eyes, for example, to match subjects with information already within the database. More common in Europe, facial recognition is used to identify specific individuals in public places or within a crowd of people. The overall effectiveness of this technology is not yet proven. Facial recognition and other forms of biometric identification have yet to achieve the efficiency effects of DNA. These technologies are costly to implement but do not offer specificity of identification as of yet.
Scientists are still working to make these systems more fail-safe and less costly for implementation. Meanwhile, other methods such as retinal scanning, iris scanning, signature recognition and voice recognition are also under development. Fingerprinting is one biometric method that has gained proven results (O’ Connor, 2006). The usage of fingerprints to identify subjects is not new. Great advances have been made, however, in the speed and thoroughness of fingerprint analysis. Formerly, all fingerprint analyses were done by hand and with the naked eye.
The process could be incredibly time consuming and prone to error. Recent advances in computer technology have allowed for rapid automated analysis of millions of samples. At the same time, new, interconnected databases are being developed that allow authorities to instantly cross reference samples from various jurisdictions. Ultimately, the creation of interconnected networks is likely to benefit criminal justice efficiency more than any other single measure. The internet is a powerful tool for criminals and for those trying to identify them.
The relative anonymity has created an environment conducive to a wide variety of crimes. In recent years, law enforcement has developed identity tracing procedures along with software that can scan a massive amount of internet communication for suspicious activity. Analysis and Conclusion Inevitably the development of more sophisticated identification methods poses societal questions that must be addressed. At what point does usage of these methods constitute a violation of Constitutional rights? How much privacy is the public willing to sacrifice for perceived security?
Are the methods worth the cost? Is the criminal justice system operating more fairly and efficiently because of these technologies? The answers to these questions may change as society changes. It is difficult to stop technological progress though, even when the benefits are unclear. Integrating new forms of identification into criminal justice process must be a collaborative effort. “The key to successful technology projects is to identify the stakeholder and user communities and then persuade them to develop and agree on their operational requirements” (Blumstein & Young, 2001).
Once the technology is adopted a thorough and ongoing process of review must be conducted in order to maximize fairness and efficiency. In the 20th century, two new forms of criminal identification rose above all others in fairness and effectiveness. DNA and fingerprint analysis have reduced the need for eyewitness identifications. Since eyewitness identifications are notoriously inaccurate, these advances have had a positive effect on efficiency and justice. The advantages of these new technologies include specificity of identification, the ability to analyze a large amount of information quickly and exoneration of the innocent.
No technology is perfect, though. The disadvantages include cost, the opportunity for misuse and the potential erosion of public trust. Going forward an effort must be made to make these technologies more available to defendants and those already convicted. This should be done not only in the name of justice but also efficiency. As new forms of identification are developed, the criminal justice system must take a “big picture” viewpoint before adopting them into practice. As attractive as automated technologies are criminal justice will always be a business about people. Sources Abernathy, W.
and Tien, L. (2003). “Biometrics: Who’s watching you? ” Electronic Frontier Foundation. Retrieved 2/07/08 from: http://www. eff. org/wp/biometrics-whos-watching-you . Blumstein, A. , Young, P. and Granholm, J. (2001). “Commentaries on: Development of Policy Governing the Use of Technology in the Criminal Justice System. ” National Institute of Justice. Retrieved 2/07/08 from: http://www. ncjrs. gov/txtfiles1/nij/189106-3a. txt . O’Connor, T. (2006). “Police Identification Procedures. ” Appalachian State University. Retrieved 2/07/08 from: http://www. apsu. edu/oconnort/3220/3220lect02a. htm .