The bureau’s image unit has linked defendants to crime photographs for decades using unproven techniques and baseless statistics. Studies have begun to raise doubts about the unit’s methods.
by Ryan Gabrielson, ProPublica
At the FBI Laboratory in Quantico, Virginia, a team of about a half-dozen technicians analyzes pictures down to their pixels, trying to determine if the faces, hands, clothes or cars of suspects match images collected by investigators from cameras at crime scenes.
The unit specializes in visual evidence and facial identification, and its examiners can aid investigations by making images sharper, revealing key details in a crime or ruling out potential suspects.
But the work of image examiners has never had a strong scientific foundation, and the FBI’s endorsement of the unit’s findings as trial evidence troubles many experts and raises anew questions about the role of the FBI Laboratory as a standard-setter in forensic science.
FBI examiners have tied defendants to crime pictures in thousands of cases over the past half-century using unproven techniques, at times giving jurors baseless statistics to say the risk of error was vanishingly small. Much of the legal foundation for the unit’s work is rooted in a 22-year-old comparison of bluejeans. Studies ...