AFIS – IAFIS

Image of fingerprint under analysis. Caption reads, IAFIS, formerly AFIS is the system developed by the FBI to provide easy access and sharing of fingerprint data for law enforcement agencies. The system collects, stores, and analyzes fingerprints from a variety of courses including investigations, criminal suspects, and pre-employment background checks. Image Source: Wikipedia.org

AFIS (now IAFIS) has become a standard tool in forensics investigations. What is IAFIS, how it was developed, and how it is used today is covered in this article.

What is fingerprint identification?

Fingerprinting as a means of identifying people is dates to ancient Babylon, where prints were used to aid in business dealings. In fact, throughout history fingerprints have been used for similar purposes. In the 1800s, numerous researchers examined and wrote about fingerprints. Jan Evangelista Purkinje wrote about nine fingerprint patterns in 1823. Hermann Welcker studied his hand print in 1856. But not until Sir William James Herschel used a hand print to complete a contract in Jungipoor, India did the idea begin to catch fire in the Western World. The year was 1858.

Very close image of a fingerprint showing lines and line endings. Caption reads, Early researchers noted several distinct features of fingerprints via close examination such as shown here. Image Source Wimedia Commons.
Early researchers noted several distinct features of fingerprints via close examination such as shown here. Image Source Wimedia Commons.

A series of scholars and others began to examine fingerprints more closely. Mark Twain even included the idea of using fingerprints to identify a murder suspect in his book “Life on the Mississippi.” Finally, in 1892 Sir Francis Galton would publish “Finger Prints” in which he meticulously classified human fingerprints into a system of characteristics, many of which continue in use.

From there, New York state, Scotland Yard, the city of St. Louis, and the U.S. Army each implemented fingerprinting in some form after the turn of the century. By 1915, the first official forensic examination organization was formed, the International Association for Criminal Identification. It naturally centered on fingerprinting.

However, using fingerprints was at once tedious, time-consuming, and inexact for much of its history. With the development of AFIS and shortly thereafter IAFIS, fingerprinting became one of the best tools in the forensics/investigative arsenal.

What is AFIS?

Many who enjoy forensics and forensics police dramas have some idea what AFIS is. Watching the forensics team of CSI or NCIS run fingerprints through AFIS or watching Dexter learn about his next serial target is fun, but really, what is AFIS?

Image of fingerprint under analysis. Caption reads, IAFIS, formerly AFIS is the system developed by the FBI to provide easy access and sharing of fingerprint data for law enforcement agencies. The system collects, stores, and analyzes fingerprints from a variety of courses including investigations, criminal suspects, and pre-employment background checks. Image Source: Wikipedia.org
IAFIS, formerly AFIS is the system developed by the FBI to provide easy access and sharing of fingerprint data for law enforcement agencies. The system collects, stores, and analyzes fingerprints from a variety of courses including investigations, criminal suspects, and pre-employment background checks. Image Source: Wikipedia.org

AFIS is an acronym which means Automated Fingerprint Identification System. It is an electronic system for storing, accessing, and analyzing fingerprint data. AFIS was created when the Federal Bureau of Investigation worked with various large police organizations in the United States to provide access to its growing database of fingerprints. Another goal was to gather fingerprints from around the nation to further grow and enhance the usability of the database by other law enforcement agencies.

Initially, an analog system was developed which used manually-coded images. The images were assigned codes based on the Henry classifications consisting of the primary patterns of a fingerprint: Whorls, loops, and arches formed the basic filing classification and fingerprints were further coded based on the ridge dots, endings, enclosures, and bifurcations of the prints. Given the complexity of the process, the prints had to be sent to a central location where experts would analyze the prints, search the records, and hopefully return results. It often took months for investigators to receive a report.

All that changed in 1986 when the AFIS database was made commercially available. Quickly, software manufacturers developed their own systems of analysis and around the nation and the world, a plethora of incompatible systems flourished. So, although two law enforcement agencies may have excellent systems for locating suspects to a crime, they were often unable to share information in a timely manner. This hindered some investigations, especially those requiring inter-jurisdictional cooperation. The solution was IAFIS.

What is IAFIS and When was IAFIS Created?

IAFIS or the Integrated Automated Fingerprint Identification System was created in July 1999. This national, computerized system for storing, comparing, and exchanging fingerprint data in a digital format permits comparisons of fingerprints in a faster and more accurate manner. Located in the Criminal Justice Information Services (CJIS) Division of the FBI in Clarksburg, West Virginia, IAFIS provides three major services.

  1. IAFIS serves as a repository of criminal history information, fingerprints, criminal subject photographs, as well as information regarding military and civilian federal employees and other individuals as authorized by Congress.
  2. IAFIS provides positive identification of individuals based on fingerprint submissions using ten‑print and latent fingerprints.
  3. IAFIS provides a tentative identification of individuals based on descriptive information such as a name, date of birth, distinctive body markings, and identification numbers.

“IAFIS’s primary function is to provide the FBI a fully automated fingerprint identification and criminal history reporting system. Additionally, IAFIS has made several other accomplishments. It has improved latent fingerprint identification services to the law enforcement community and it has also helped to develop uniform biometric standards. These improvements have eliminated the need to process and retain paper fingerprint cards and has, thereby, accelerated the identification process. Another benefit has been the development of improved digital image quality.” FBI.gov

When Did IAIFS Become Operational?

Although IAFIS was created in 1999, it was not until after the 9/11 Terrorist attacks that the system was authorized for the extent of access for which it was developed. Via the USAPATRIOT Act Congress laid the foundation for the sharing of sensitive data, including fingerprints, with police organizations nationwide. Yet, there were concerns and legal snags preventing full implementation. This is because the AIFIS database contains more than simply the fingerprints of known criminals and suspects; it also contains the fingerprints of anyone who has ever applied for a job requiring fingerprinting, persons who served in the U.S. Military, and more.

By Executive Order 13388, dated October 25, 2005, the privacy concerns and legal challenges were laid to rest. The order stated:

“To the maximum extent consistent with applicable law, agencies shall, in the design and use of information systems and in the dissemination of information among agencies:

(a) give the highest priority to

(i) the detection, prevention, disruption, preemption, and mitigation of the effects of terrorist activities against the territory, people, and interests of the United States of America;

(ii) the interchange of terrorism information among agencies;

(iii) the interchange of terrorism information between agencies and appropriate authorities of state, local, and tribal governments, and between agencies and appropriate private sector entities; and

(iv) the protection of the ability of agencies to acquire additional such information; and

(b) protect the freedom, information privacy, and other legal rights of Americans in the conduct of activities implementing subsection (a).”

What does the Integrated Automated Fingerprint Identification System (AFIS) provide?

The Integrated Automated Fingerprint Identification System (IAFIS) is a national automated fingerprint identification and criminal history system maintained by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). IAFIS provides automated fingerprint search capabilities, latent searching capability, electronic image storage, and electronic exchange of fingerprints and responses.

Interesting Fact About Testing IAFIS
In September 2001, prior to full implementation of IAFIS, the FBI in conjunction with the San Bernardino Police Department tested the system using a latent print found at a 1999 crime scene. The system returned several suspects, one of which was Jad Salam who had been arrested in Texas on a drug charge only two weeks after the murder of jeweler Marshall Adams in California. He was found in San Bernardino and admitted to being present during the murder but could not explain his bloody palmprint left on the victim’s face.

Employment background checks and legitimate firearms purchases cause citizens to be permanently recorded in the system. For instance, the State of Washington mandates that all applicants seeking employment in an inpatient setting that houses vulnerable minors (such as children who are mentally challenged, physically or emotionally ill) are fingerprinted and entered into IAFIS as part of their background check to determine if the applicant has any record of criminal behavior.

Fingerprints are voluntarily submitted to the FBI by local, state, and federal law enforcement agencies. These agencies acquire the fingerprints through criminal arrests or from non-criminal sources, such as employment background checks and the US-VISIT program. The FBI then catalogs the fingerprints along with any criminal history linked with the subject.

Law enforcement agencies can then request a search in IAFIS to identify crime scene (latent) fingerprints obtained during criminal investigations. Civil searches are also performed, but the FBI charges a fee and the response time is slower.

How many fingerprints are in the FBI’s IAFIS database of criminal files?

IAFIS is the largest biometric database in the world, housing the fingerprints and criminal histories for more than 70 million subjects in the criminal master file, along with more than 34 million civil prints. Included in our criminal database are fingerprints from 73,000 known and suspected terrorists processed by the U.S. or by international law enforcement agencies who work with American authorities.

How does the IAFIS work?

image of a fingerprint which was created using the ink and paper method. Caption reads, A fingerprint created by using ink. The finger to be printed is rolled over ink then rolled or placed flat onto a fingerprint card. Image source Wikipedia
A fingerprint created by using ink. The finger to be printed is rolled over ink then rolled or placed flat onto a fingerprint card. Image source Wikipedia

The device used for scanning live fingerprints into AFIS is called Live scan. The process of obtaining the prints by way of LiveScan employs rolling prints or placing flat impressions onto a glass plate above a camera unit. The process of obtaining prints by placing a ten-print card (prints taken using ink) onto a flatbed or high-speed scanner is called CardScan (or DeadScan). In addition to these devices, there are others used to capture prints from crime scenes, as well as wired and wireless units to capture one or two live finger impressions.

The most common method of acquiring fingerprint images remains the inexpensive ink pad and paper form: A person to be fingerprinted is guided by another to roll each finger and thumb over ink then transfer their latent print onto a paper card with spaces pre-identified for each finger and thumb on each hand.

Scanning forms (“fingerprint cards”) with a forensic AFIS complies with standards established by the FBI and National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST).

To match a print, the fingerprint technician scans the print in question and computer algorithms are utilized to mark all minutia points, cores, and deltas detected on the print. In some systems, the technician is allowed to perform a review of the points that the software has detected, and submits the feature set to a one-to-many (1:N) search. Some commercial systems provide fully automated processing and searching of print features; this is called “a lights out” procedure. The fingerprint image processor will generally assign a quality measure that indicates if the print is acceptable for searching.

How Long Does It Take to Get Fingerprints Analyzed using IAFIS?

The average response time for an electronic criminal fingerprint submission is about 27 minutes. The average response time for electronic civil submissions are an hour and 12 minutes. IAFIS processed more than 61 million ten-print submissions during fiscal year 2010.

However, those response times are limited by the number of prints on file and the system itself. To further enhance the capabilities of law enforcement efforts worldwide, the FBI has announced plans to replace IAFIS with a Next Generation Identification system. This system is under development by Lockheed Martin in partnership with Safran.

What Information is Collected and Stored in IAFIS and How is the Data Obtained?

The data collected and stored in IAFIS comes from law enforcement agencies worldwide. It includes:

  • the identify an individual such as the name
  • last known address
  • social security number
  • last known telephone number
  • e-mail address
  • biometric identifiers
  • photograph
  • a unique identifying number, code, or characteristics that when combined, indirectly identify an individual (gender, race, birth date, geographic indicator, license number, vehicle identifier including license plate, and other descriptors).

The information collected consists primarily of fingerprints that have been provided by

  • The Department of Defense
  • other federal agencies, and
  • foreign governments
  • along with minimal descriptive information such as name,
  • date of birth, and
  • place of birth.

The accompanying information can also include much more detail such as

  • photographs,
  • physical characteristics, or
  • descriptions of scars, marks, and tattoos.

Some of the fingerprints are from individuals who have been arrested or incarcerated. Other individuals have been detained because of suspicious activity or as military detainees. Some is voluntary such as when a person is required by a job to be fingerprinted.

What Section of the USC Governs IAFIS?

Governance of the Integrated Automated Fingerprint Identification System is authorized under 28 U.S. Code § 534 – Acquisition, preservation, and exchange of identification records and information; appointment of officials.  28 U.S. Code § 534 states in part,

(a) The Attorney General shall—

(1) acquire, collect, classify, and preserve identification, criminal identification, crime, and other records;

(2) acquire, collect, classify, and preserve any information which would assist in the identification of any deceased individual who has not been identified after the discovery of such deceased individual;

(3) acquire, collect, classify, and preserve any information which would assist in the location of any missing person (including an unemancipated person as defined by the laws of the place of residence of such person) and provide confirmation as to any entry for such a person to the parent, legal guardian, or next of kin of that person (and the Attorney General may acquire, collect, classify, and preserve such information from such parent, guardian, or next of kin); and

(4) exchange such records and information with, and for the official use of, authorized officials of the Federal Government, including the United States Sentencing Commission, the States, including State sentencing commissions, Indian tribes, cities, and penal and other institutions.

The FBI is the office within the Department of Justice that the Attorney General primarily uses to accomplish this task. Naturally, that could change according to the wishes of the Attorney General of the United States but is likely to remain the job of the FBI for the foreseeable future.

The following information is contained in a brochure provided by the FBI…        

THE INTEGRATED AUTOMATED FINGERPRINT IDENTIFICATION SYSTEM (IAFIS)

The Integrated Automated Fingerprint Identification System, more commonly known as the IAFIS, is a national fingerprint and criminal history system maintained by the FBI’s Criminal Justice Information Services (CJIS) Division. The IAFIS provides automated fingerprint search capabilities, latent search capabilities, electronic image storage, and electronic exchange of fingerprints and responses, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. The electronic submission of fingerprints allows agencies to receive electronic responses to criminal tenprint fingerprint submissions within two hours and within 24 hours for civil fingerprint submissions.

Today’s FBI

  • More than 80 years of experience collecting, maintaining, and analyzing fingerprints and criminal history identification records
  • More than 59 million criminal history records
  • More than 210 million criminal arrest cycles
  • Approximately 9,000 new records established per day
  • Approximately 29,000 updates to the criminal history file per day
  • More than 104,000 fingerprint submissions per day

The FBI CJIS Division’s Biometric Services Section (BSS): Mission – To provide person-centric identification services that support law enforcement communities and their partners in safeguarding the public against terrorist and criminal activities • Manages the FBI’s fingerprint and criminal history program • Staffs approximately 1,000 employees

TENPRINT FINGERPRINT IDENTIFICATION SERVICES

image of a latent print. Caption reads, A latent print lifted from some object at a crime scene can then be matched efficiently and correctly using IAFIS. Image Source Wikimedia Commons
A latent print lifted from some object at a crime scene can then be matched efficiently and correctly using IAFIS. Image Source Wikimedia Commons

The IAFIS tenprint services are fingerprint-based identification and image exchange services provided for law enforcement agencies and authorized non-criminal justice agencies. A tenprint fingerprint submission contains ten rolled fingerprint impressions and the corresponding flat fingerprint impressions.

The FBI receives fingerprints as a result of an arrest or through a background check for employment, licensing, or other non-criminal justice purposes. The fingerprints are processed locally and forwarded to a state or federal agency, which then sends the fingerprints to the FBI’s IAFIS for processing. For more information regarding taking legible fingerprints for tenprint fingerprint submissions, visit the FBI’s Web page at www.fbi.gov/hq/cjisd/takingfps.html. IAFIS PHOTO SERVICES

The IAFIS allows criminal justice agencies to submit facial photos, as well as photos of scars, marks, and tattoos, with arrests which can be electronically retrieved.  Agencies can submit up to four photos (a photo set) for each arrest; IAFIS allows up to 10 photo sets per FBI record. If a subject has a photo(s), the phrase “PHOTO AVAILABLE” appears on the FBI record following an arrest.

Guidelines regarding the submission and retrieval of photos can be found in the Electronic Biometric Transmission Specification (EBTS) manual. The EBTS not only contains electronic interface specifications but expands to include additional biometric identification services and modalities in recognition of the rapidly developing biometric identification industry. The EBTS is available online at www.fbibiospecs.org.

LATENT FINGERPRINT SERVICES

The IAFIS provides authorized agencies with the ability to search and compare latent fingerprints against a national fingerprint repository. The IAFIS returns a list of potential candidates with the corresponding images and other relative information for comparison purposes. Questions regarding latent search capabilities can be directed to ltdt@leo.gov. CRIMINAL HISTORY SERVICES

The FBI processes criminal history updates received by electronic input, hard copy, or machine readable data format (CD or DVD). These updates include arrest dispositions, expungements, wanted notices, and other miscellaneous updates.

What Is a Latent Print?

Latent prints are impressions—usually invisible to the naked eye—produced by the ridged skin on human fingers, palms, and soles of the feet; they are often left at crime scenes. A variety of techniques—including the use of chemicals, powders, lasers, and alternate light sources—are employed in the detection and development of latent prints. These prints are then routinely processed through local and state fingerprint databases to find a match. But if those searches come up empty, the prints can also be submitted to the FBI’s Integrated Automated Fingerprint Identification System (IAFIS).

For more information on criminal history document submissions, visit the FBI’s Web page at www.fbi.gov/hq/cjisd/arrestdispositions.htm. TRAINING SERVICES

Up-to-date training can be provided to authorized agencies on a variety of topics including: – Obtaining and submitting legible fingerprints and palmprints – Classifying fingerprints – Collecting and submitting criminal history record data – Understanding the criminal history record

To request a catalog and/or register for a class, please send a facsimile on your agency’s letterhead to (304) 625-2337 or e-mail the Training and Records Testimony Team at fingerprint_training@leo.gov.

For more information visit the training group’s Web site at www.fbi.gov/hq/cjisd/fingerprint_training.htm. CUSTOMER SERVICE phone: (304) 625-5590 Monday through Friday   8:00 a.m. – 5:30 p.m.  Eastern Standard Time e-mail: liaison@leo.gov IAFIS Web page: www.fbi.gov/hq/cjisd/iafis.htm

Source Links/Additional Information May be Found at…

This article uses material from the Wikipedia article “Integrated Automated Fingerprint Identification System”, which is released under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share-Alike License 3.0.