work necessary to achieve truly interoperable systems and to assist law enforcement agencies in purchasing, implementing, and managing systems and training personnel.


As suggested above, AFIS equipment and service vendors must cooperate to ensure nationwide AFIS interoperability. However, to date—and as one could reasonably expect in a technology sector in which product differentiation and the maintenance of competitive advantages are prime concerns—vendors have had little incentive to design their systems to enable them to share information with competitors’ systems. The committee believes that increased cooperation among AFIS vendors is a key to achieving meaningful interoperability. For example, one can imagine how it might prove useful if AFIS vendors could collaborate (perhaps through work facilitated by the proposed National Institute of Forensic Science [NIFS]) on developing standard (or baseline) retrieval algorithms. Such a step conceivably could make it less time consuming for fingerprint examiners to run searches on many different systems because they would not have to manually tune their searches to work on the systems of different vendors.

Administrative, Legal, and Policy Issues

As noted earlier, most AFIS implementations are either stand-alone systems or are part of relatively limited regional databases. To achieve truly interoperable systems, jurisdictions must work more closely together to craft acceptable agreements and policies to govern the routine sharing of fingerprint information. NIFS can facilitate the development of standard agreements along these lines, which could include issues such as the extent of system access to other jurisdictions, the management of search priorities, and the recovery of costs associated with processing the requests from outside agencies. In addition, many jurisdictions also might want assurances that they will not be held responsible for any possible misuse of fingerprint information that is provided to other law enforcement agencies.


Great improvement is possible with respect to AFIS interoperability. Many crimes no doubt go unsolved today simply because investigating agencies cannot search across all the individual databases that might hold a suspect’s fingerprints or contain a match for an unidentified latent print from a crime scene. It is possible that some perpetrators have gone free because of the limitations on fingerprint searches.

The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine
500 Fifth St. N.W. | Washington, D.C. 20001

Copyright © National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
Terms of Use and Privacy Statement