by Sarah D. Scalet, CSO - The Resource For Security Professionals
Finding the bad guys just got easier. Thanks to the growing use of fingerprint scanning technology, law enforcement officials can now share information about criminals and quickly compare a suspect's fingerprint image with millions of similar imprints.
According to a General Accounting Office report issued in January, an FBI program called the Integrated Automated Fingerprint Identification System is developing a federal fingerprint database.
The IAFIS program was created to improve the speed and accuracy of fingerprint identification by encouraging nonfederal law enforcement agencies to submit criminal fingerprints to state databases and to the federal IAFIS database, the world's largest biometric database.
In the United States, 94 percent of felony and serious misdemeanor crime arrests are made by state and local law enforcement, as opposed to federal law enforcement. But as recently as 1999, only 45 percent of fingerprints collected from those arrests made it to the feds' repository.
The new program is working. As of May 2003, the feds were receiving 70 percent of criminal fingerprints submitted to state repositories, and the time taken to submit the prints had shrunk to just 40 days.
Still, the GAO found that there is much room for improvement before authorities can achieve the FBI's goal of paperless fingerprinting. Many U.S. law enforcement agencies still don't have the process known as Livescan that allows them to electronically submit fingerprints. Many departments, especially in sparsely populated areas, still work with paper fingerprint cards and manual processes. In these agencies, workers often mail fingerprint cards to state repositories, resulting in delays of between seven and 169 days.
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The GAO report concluded that law enforcement agencies should adopt electronic submission equipment wherever possible. For agencies that cannot afford it, the report suggests increasing staff or outsourcing fingerprinting to private contractors.