New FBI biometrics system near full operations

By MICHAEL ERB

For The Weirton Daily Times

CLARKSBURG – The FBI’s more than one-billion dollar Next Generation Identification system, which has been in development for six years, will be fully implemented next month.

Stephen Morris, assistant director of Criminal Justice Information Services Division in Clarksburg, said Tuesday the system, which replaces the FBI’s Integrated Automated Fingerprint Identification System, or IAFIS, will deliver “Increment 4” in September the final phase of the project, “which really represents the system going fully operational.

Morris talked about the system during a tour of the Clarksburg offices by the West Virginia Legislature’s Joint Committee on Technology.

The NGI system includes hundreds of millions of fingerprint files, but also brings in multiple other elements of “biometrics” to form a comprehensive database, Morris said. The system can help identify suspects in crimes based not only on fingerprints, but also other forms of identification, from scars and tattoos to latent prints and even a person’s eyes and irises.

Morris said the system also uses facial recognition technology which, while not as reliable and effective as fingerprints for identifying suspects, is quickly becoming an invaluable tool for law enforcement.

“The sort of stuff you see on CSI, that doesn’t really happen, but we’d like to believe that it is closer to being real,” he said. “The technology advances so quickly, three years ago we didn’t think we’d be where we are today.”

Morris said facial recognition technology, like many of the biometrics systems used to help identify suspects, helps narrow the field and supports other forms of identification.

“Where fingerprinting is a 1-to-1 match, facial recognition is one-to-many,” he said. “We’ve chased a lot of bad guys around, and (with fingerprints alone) we were just chasing names. Now we have a face that goes with that name.”

The system also can be used to alert law enforcement officers to particularly dangerous situations. Morris said the Repository for Individuals of Special Concerns, or R.I.S.C., allows officers in the field to use a handheld thumb scanner if a suspect is believed to be dangerous. The scan is instantly compared to a database of “the worst of the worst,” such as those who have outstanding warrants for sexual or violent crimes.

“These are the folks that police officers need to know who they’re dealing with,” Morris said. The information is returned within only a few minutes because “it’s only searching a couple million fingerprints rather than hundreds of millions, and it’s only searching the thumbprint. We’ve had great success with these.

The CJIS continues to act as a database for law enforcement agencies throughout the United States.