Interoperability Means Success for All Law Enforcement

“Know where to find the information and how to use it—that’s the secret of success.”

-Albert Einstein

For more than a decade, the FBI’s Criminal Justice Information Services Division has made considerable strides in eliminating gaps in sharing biometric information through interoperability. The high-profile cases of illegal immigrants Rafael Resendez-Ramirez, a.k.a., The Railroad Killer (1990s), and Victor Manuel Batres-Martinez, who raped two nuns and murdered one of them (2002), as well as the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, demonstrated how imperative the real-time, reciprocal exchange of information among multiple repositories is to defending our borders and nation. Following these acts, new congressional legislation mandated that the Department of Justice’s FBI and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) develop a technical solution for our respective systems, the Integrated Automated Fingerprint Identification System (IAFIS) and the Automated Biometric Identification System (IDENT), to become interoperable.

In 2006, the FBI and the DHS implemented an interim solution to share extracts of records through the Office of Biometric Identity Management, formerly the United States Visitor and Immigrant Status Indicator Technology program. The FBI provided extracts from the National Crime Information Center’s Known and Appropriately Suspected Terrorist and Wanted Person Files, as well as information on foreign special interests. In return, the DHS supplied information on persons who were expedited removals from the United States and those who were denied visas for entry based on biometric data. By 2008, the agencies began phasing out shared data extracts as the shared services capability was introduced. Shared services are the desired end state for biometric interoperability allowing the real-time search and exchange of information from all partner repositories via a single query. 

Interoperability in Action

A Guatemalan national was arrested in Rhode Island for driving without a license. His fingerprints were submitted to the IAFIS, which returned a no match response. Through interoperability, the fingerprints and limited biographic data were also checked among IDENT records, where a match was found. The man was identified as a wanted member of a criminal organization responsible for several high-profile kidnappings and murders in Central America. Consequently, federal officials turned the man over to the Guatemalan police.

Interoperability success can also be attributed to uniformity in capturing biometrics. In the same year shared services began, the DHS Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and the Department of State (DOS) Consular Affairs started a rolled, ten-print pilot. This, along with technological advances, currently allows CBP to conduct 98,000 searches a day at air and sea primary processing lanes. Through the rapid response functionality, these checks can be made at limited primary sea and air ports of entry before granting foreign travelers admission to the United States. In addition, the DOS can now submit 30,000 searches daily for visa applicants against the IAFIS criminal master file.

Today, the participants of IDENT/IAFIS Interoperability include all 50 states, the District of Colombia, four territories, and all federal agencies that submit Criminal Answer Required transactions. Through a single query, interoperability streamlines the process of sharing information by allowing authorized users to search approved data sets in a partner agency’s repository and, if technically capable, receive a response.

Upon searching the criminal history information in IAFIS, participating agencies automatically query IDENT for basic immigration identity information, such as name, date of birth, place of birth, gender, and when available, a photograph. A positive identification, or a verification of identity in a repository, generates a response containing related biographic information, criminal history information, and immigration identity information. Together, these pieces assist in determining the use of aliases, generating threat profiles, and making sound decisions regarding public safety and national security.

In addition to facilitating queries among multiple systems for current cases, interoperability can also provide tremendous benefits for latent print searches. For example, the FBI and Department of Defense (DoD) recently implemented the Latent Interoperability Pilot with the Texas Department of Public Safety. Prior to the pilot, local and state criminal justice agencies searched latent fingerprints of criminal cases against the IAFIS. However, searches of IDENT and the DoD’s Automated Biometric Identification System (ABIS) were only accepted on a case-by-case basis and processed manually. Through the pilot, the Texas Department of Public Safety can search latent prints against the full repositories of both IAFIS and ABIS in a single query. Another pilot between the FBI and the DHS aims to emulate the success of the DoD pilot. It will expand the availability of latent services beyond established user communities for superior information quality and timeliness.    

The CJIS Division continues to expand the number of interoperability partners within the criminal justice and intelligence communities, widening the range of biometric sharing and garnering increasingly accurate and complete information. With such vast repositories, interoperability will continue to improve law enforcement’s ability to solve crimes and protect our nation’s borders.