Call it the tale of two automated fingerprint systems.
The FBI has managed the nation’s collection of fingerprints since 1924, but we went fully electronic in 1999 when we launched the Integrated Automated Fingerprint Identification System, or IAFIS. This national repository of fingerprints and criminal histories enables law enforcement at every level to quickly match up criminal evidence with criminal identities.
On the other hand (so to speak), the Department of Homeland Security’s IDENT—the Automated Biometric Identification System that houses fingerprint records and limited biographic information—was created in 1994 to help U.S. border and immigration officials keep criminals and terrorists from crossing our borders.
Two different systems…with two different missions…for two different sets of users.
But in this post-9/11, globalized world, those charged with protecting the nation need to be on the same page…with appropriate access to each other’s information. So that’s why the Department of Justice (DOJ) and FBI, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), and the Department of State have worked hard in recent years to establish interoperability between these two fingerprint databases.
Phase one. In 2006, DHS and DOJ/FBI began a pilot project with a limited number of agencies, making technical enhancements to IAFIS and IDENT that allowed two-way sharing of information. The FBI and DHS exchanged electronic copies of fingerprint images of certain subsets of data from each system, including known or suspected terrorists, subjects with wanted notices, and visa refusals. Authorized users of each system were then able to access those records.
The result: law enforcement and border and immigration officials each gained near real-time access to information from both systems on non-U.S. persons they encounter—whether at a police booking station, a border crossing, or at a U.S. Embassy visa office abroad.
Phase two. In 2008, we began expanding the concept, implementing a technological fix that would support a direct search request from authorized users of the full IDENT and IAFIS systems through a single interface. Right now, more than 450 jurisdictions in 26 states are participating in phase two, with more being added all the time.
Eventually, our interoperability plan calls for every IDENT and IAFIS user—local, state, tribal, and federal law enforcement and authorized non-criminal justice agencies across the country—to have this same ability.
Within the first and second phases, we’ve already seen some successes:
Miami police recently arrested a man for battery and ran his prints through both systems. It turned out he was a Mexican native who had been removed from the U.S. twice for other crimes. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) received a notice about the search, and he was deported.
Police in Roxbury, Massachusetts arrested a man on firearm and drug charges. An IDENT/IAFIS search identified him as a Jamaican citizen previously removed from the U.S. who was also a known member of a violent street gang and a suspect in three murders. ICE was notified and began proceedings to have him removed from this country.
In recognition of their innovative solutions to align our automated identification fingerprint systems, members of DHS’ U.S.–VISIT team (U.S. Visitor and Immigrant Status Indicator Technology Program) and the FBI’s Criminal Justice Information Services Division team were recently honored with the ICE Assistant Secretary’s Protecting the Homeland award.
Congratulations to everyone involved…but the real winners are the American people, who are safer in their cities and neighborhoods.
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