Fingerprint System

Before the era of the industrial revolution and mass migrations to the cities, populations usually lived in rural areas where there was a little need for identification as everyone knew everyone else. However, as cities populated, crime rates increased and it became difficult to identify criminals within a massive anonymity. Identification systems such as, anthropometry, rogues galleries, Henry system were emerged at the late 19th and early 20th century. Due to the increasing security demands and the raising challenges in identification systems required new, advanced, and reliable identification system. In todays modern world, AFIS (Automated Finger Identification System) and Live Scan systems are the most effective systems of identifications which are critical sources of information for police agencies. This paper will analyze AFIS and Live Scan systems by considering its application, deployment, and interaction.


The Automated Fingerprint Identification System (AFIS) is one of the advanced biometric identification methodology which uses digital imaging technology to gain, store, analyze, and evaluate fingerprint data. The FBIs (Federal Bureau of Investigation) Identification Division was developed by the authority of the U.S. Department of Justice. It was the Identification Divisions responsibility to provide a criminal identification data to the law enforcement agencies in the U.S. By the early 1960s the FBIs criminal file record went up to the 65 millions files with almost 150 million single fingerprints. Incoming records were manually handled and searched by means of FBIs Henry system of classification. Almost 30,000 fingerprint cards were searched daily. As the size of criminal records kept on increasing, the time and manual human efforts to search and identify the required data became complicated. In the early 1960s, the FBI in the U.S., the Japanese National Police, the Home Office in the U.K., and Paris Police in France started projects to develop AFIS, i.e., Automated Fingerprint Identification System. It was first used by the FBI in the U.S. to solve the criminal cases. Further, it gained popularity for fraud prevention and general identification.

Live Scan is an alternative system to the old ink fingerprint method. The Live Scan systems helps in avoiding many of the issues related with ink prints such as, smearing, smudging, and under or over inking. California was one of the earliest states to adopt the Live Scan system in 1997. Live Scan systems have developed from standalone capture devices to complex systems with combination of multiple safe and secure databases. This inkless electronic system captures an individuals fingerprint images and demographic data like, name, date of birth, sex, race, etc. in a digitized format that can be carried to the state central repository for the processing. The data is forwarded to the corresponding state police departments Bureau of Identification (BOI) via Virtual Private Network (VPN). Once received at the BOI for processing, the data can be transmitted to the FBI electronically for further processing. The received data is processed by the state police departments or FBIs Automated Fingerprint Identification System (AFIS) for final identification. In a way, these identification systems interact with each other. All the data transferring occurs within few minutes and results in a biometric recognition of an individual with minor or without human intervention.

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When fingerprint data is processed to the AFIS (Automated Fingerprint Identification System) for identification, contrary to the name, it doesnt make an identification by itself. AFIS is rather a searching system, by means of which, examiners identify the data and make the final decision. In the U.S., there are three levels of searching fingerprint data. First, some local agencies may have their own local database of offenders arrested in the city. Such small database helps to search required information very quickly. Second, a state level database holds the fingerprint records of all criminals arrested in the state. It is a larger database, so often it take a longer time to conduct a search. An emergency search request can complete under 20 minutes from a several million records by means of AFIS. Third and largest database in the U.S. is a federal database, i.e. the Integrated Automated Fingerprint Identification System (IAFIS), which holds all criminal records in the country. AFIS working mechanism involves various steps. First, the examiner scans an image of the fingerprint. After uploading the image, the software allows the examiner to mark the locations of ridge characteristics with a marker. The examiner also add some particular data such as, gender, name etc., and pattern types to refine the search. According to the provided data, AFIS system searches most identical patterns of the people in the database and score the candidates from best to worst based on the matching of the data. Depending on the score and identical patterns, the examiner has to judge and verify a match.

Rapid adoption of AFIS by developing countries, introduction of Open Architecture, availability of customized applications of AFIS are some of the trends, which are promoting advanced identification systems. The major manufacturers of Automated Fingerprint Identification Systems begin to deploy such trends to expand their market in the government as well as the aerospace, medical, and financial sectors. In most of the cases, AFIS is used to identify criminals and solve the crimes. Besides it, various countries are adopting AFIS for checking passports, performing background checks, and identifying benefit recipients. Automated Fingerprint Identification Systems are used for border control applications such as tax IDs, national ID cards, visa issuance, e-passports, refugee tracking, etc. FBI in the U.S., International Criminal Police Organization in France, Federal Criminal Police Office in Germany, European Police Office in Netherlands, New South Wales Police in Australia, Home office and Serious Organized Crime Agency in the U.K. are some of the largest government-based organizations which use Automated Finger Identification and Live Scan systems. Live Scan systems can be used for criminal and non-criminal justice use such as, real estate licensees, notaries, security agencies etc.

Though, AFIS and Live Scan systems are convincing in identification of fingerprints, with the help of advanced technology and methods, criminals are able to create fake finger prints. AFIS is not 100% fool-proofed. Also, it is possible that a criminals fingerprints may not be in records at all. In such cases, police investigation and identification of criminal become more complex. The term AFIS interoperability refers to the ability of various AFIS to interact effectively and efficiently with one another. However, ownership and function variations between AFIS of different manufacturers, or even variations in the system version of the same manufacture, cause interoperability issues. Therefore, often these systems cause hurdles in solving international crimes. According to the chief operations officer of the International Association for Identification (IAI), Joe Polski, there are various kinds of technical, political, and legal issues associated with the application of identification systems, also, there is still work to be done to determine the effective way of interaction between various AFIS and Live Scan systems.

In conclusion, fingerprint identification is a refined methodology which is around in practice for more than 50 years and accepted by judicial systems of almost all countries in the world. AFIS and Live Scans are reliable, affordable, and convenient methods for fingerprint database and identification. Recently, more advanced forms of AFIS and Live Scan systems are introduced in the market, which are proving to be critical in solving various criminal cases. In a way, advanced identification systems like AFIS and Live Scans should be encouraged and adopted in various civil and government sectors to maintain the security and to achieve a positive result in solving criminal cases.

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