Fingerprints, millions of them, are swapped and checked daily among federal agencies and between the FBI, and state and local police. That’s a huge leap from the humble beginnings of one of the first forensic sciences.
Jerry Pender, deputy assistant director for the Criminal Justice Information Services Division, told Federal News Radio the FBI started fingerprinting on a national level in 1926. Until 1999 the system was completely manual and the turnaround time for processing a print request was six months. After the integrated automated fingerprint identification system (IAFIS) was rolled out in 1999, processing times dropped to 24 hours for civil and two hours for criminal cases. That breakthrough, said Pender, was revolutionary at the time, “but now, with the latest mission and the increased volumes and focus on homeland security, there was a requirement to take that down from days and hours to minutes and seconds.”
In order to meet those new needs, the FBI awarded Lockheed Martin a contract for the first major fingerprinting system upgrade in more than a decade: the FBI’s Next Generation Identification (NGI) system.
According to Pender, the “biggest advance” has been building NGI “on commodity LINUS hardware.” This means, he explained, that with a database of 65 million people, each with 10 fingers, “NGI has the ability to do nine trillion individual finger to finger comparisons per hour.”
In addition, where IAFIS handled rolled fingerprints, NGI will support “flat fingerprints; palm prints; facial recognition; scars, marks and tattoos and iris recognition.”
But NGI isn’t stopping there. Next up, according to a Lockheed press release, is RISC.
Increment 2: Repository for Individuals of Special Concern (RISC), is also progressing according to schedule. Now in the final stages of development, this phase will provide law enforcement users more speed and flexibility in how they search the FBI’s RISC fingerprint database, which includes Wanted Persons, Known or Appropriately Suspected Terrorists, Sex Offenders Registry subjects, and other persons of special interest.
These are “the worst of the worst records, the real bad guys,” said Pender.”Active wants and warrants, sexual offenders, known or suspected terrorists, and we’re providing that really rapid access through hand-held wireless devices so that when police are on the street, they’re able to identify people before they take them into custody. We have a pilot with that going on in Houston and they’ve been getting very, very good results.”
“Like an app for your iPhone?” asked Federal Drive anchor Amy Morris.
“I don’t know that iPhones are there yet,” replied Pender, “but that will certainly be the kind of vision. Whatever the frontline police officers have, whatever kind of mobile devices, and certainly iPhones isn’t something we have right now, but I could imagine that type of thing happening.”
Tom Temin is the host of The Federal Drive, which airs from 6-8 a.m. on 1500 AM in the Washington, D.C. region and online everywhere. Tom has 30 years experience in journalism, mostly in technology markets. Before coming to Federal News Radio, he was a long-serving editor-in-chief of Government Computer News and Washington Technology magazines.