Integrated Automated Fingerprint Identification System

views updated

Integrated Automated Fingerprint Identification System

An important part of a forensic investigation is the identification of the victim or suspect. One of the most useful identification tools is the fingerprint pattern. An individual's fingerprint pattern is a unique identifier. This identification power was recognized long ago. On-paper impressions of fingerprint patterns stored in file cabinets have been a standard feature of law enforcement. In the Internet age, such information can be shared with the wider community. Computer databases can be made accessible to virtually any law enforcement agency, and to other forensic investigations who have the necessary authorization to access the database.

The most important fingerprint database is known as the Integrated Automated Fingerprint Identification System (IAFIS). The databasethe largest in the worldis a national repository of fingerprint and other information on criminal history, which is maintained by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI ) Criminal Justice Information Services Division.

A user accessing the database can print out or download specified images. As well, images can be uploaded to the database. Indeed, the fingerprint image patterns in the database are voluntarily submitted by local, state, and federal law enforcement agencies. Over 47 million fingerprint patterns currently reside in the database.

Many of the files in the database contain the digitized images of ten prints, the eight fingers and two thumbs, of an individual. Eight print patterns, which lack thumbprints, are also included.

The images can be downloaded directly to the database when submitted electronically. Fingerprints that are submitted by mail are converted to an electronic format.

Users can search the IAFIS database to compare a submitted fingerprint pattern with this tremendous number and geographically diverse repository of fingerprints. The submitted pattern is compared to those in the database. Any matching pattern is displayed, complete with the other information on the individual.

The IAFIS increases a forensic investigator's chance of identifying a subject or a deceased person. The electronic nature of the database facilitates rapid turnaround. Typically, in a non-criminal case, a response to a submission occurs within 24 hours. When a submission is concerned with a criminal or forensic investigation, the turnaround time occurs within two hours. Conceivably, a fingerprint pattern can be submitted and a response received within the same business day.

This rapid submission and turn-around capability has markedly accelerated forensic investigations. In the past, identifying a fingerprint from a national paper database took months. Indeed, it was this limitation that prompted the FBI to partner with law enforcement agencies in the 1990s to establish the electronic database. The IAFIS began operation in July of 1999.

see also Automated Fingerprint Identification System (AFIS); Crime scene investigation; Digital imaging; Fingerprint; Fingerprint analysis (famous cases); Latent fingerprint.