AFIS outside of law enforcement
Another feature that NEC offers WIN members is the ability to be notified if someone’s status changes. For example, if an individual who has applied for a gun permit or a teaching license is arrested, the system could notify the organization that ordered the check.
WIN does a great number of regulatory checks in addition to criminal identification, Bischoff says. This is a common AFIS function, as regulators want to make sure that teachers and others who work in schools don’t have criminal backgrounds.
States typically collect fingerprints of teachers, social workers and a myriad of other people during background checks, says MorphoTrak’s Horton. The prints are run through the local, state and FBI system to make sure there are not convictions or other problems.
But just because an individual has their fingerprints run through the FBI’s system, it doesn’t mean the prints are stored there. “The FBI isn’t keeping everything from the states,” Horton says. “Just because an agency might search the FBI doesn’t mean it’s stored there.”
While the history of AFIS is in law enforcement, using it for background checks and other purposes isn’t new, says Horton. In 1995 MorphoTrak did a system for Los Angeles County for those receiving welfare. “Every welfare recipient was enrolled in order to get their checks and to make sure there weren’t duplicate enrollees,” he explains.
The system worked so well that the entire state of California now uses the system. Three other states also have deployed similar systems to reduce welfare fraud, Horton says.
The U.S. Department of Homeland Security uses an AFIS to check incoming travelers. Foreign visitors to the country have all 10 fingerprints scanned and run against a watch list. Systems like this have become common around the world, Horton says.
Some countries also fingerprint citizens when applying for passports and check those against an AFIS before issuing the travel documents, Horton says. Depending on the country, the fingerprints may be translated into templates and stored on the contactless chip in the passport book.
The future of AFIS
The flashing computer monitor to indicate a fingerprint match might be a staple of procedural crime shows, but the reality is quite different. Forty years of AFIS have made law enforcement more efficient. Fingerprints will always play a role when it comes to law enforcement and evidence collection, but an expanded role in travel and other facets of everyday life is rapidly emerging as well.
As the modern AFIS enters middle age it’s not standing still. Additional biometric modalities are being added to bolster systems, while better algorithms and matching engines improve accuracy. Continued standardization and more widespread data sharing will help future AFIS track down criminals across jurisdictions.
AVISIAN’s Gina Jordan also contributed to this report.