AFIS and Database Interoperability

Great improvement is necessary in AFIS interoperability. Crimes may go unsolved today simply because it is not possible for investigating agencies to search across all the databases that might hold a suspect’s fingerprints or that may contain a match for an unidentified latent print from a crime scene. It is also possible that some individuals have been wrongly convicted because of the limitations of fingerprint searches.

At present, serious practical problems pose obstacles to the achievement of nationwide AFIS interoperability. These problems include convincing AFIS equipment vendors to cooperate and collaborate with the law enforcement community and researchers to create and use baseline standards for sharing fingerprint data and create a common interface. Second, law enforcement agencies lack the resources needed to transition to interoperable AFIS implementations. Third, coordinated jurisdictional agreements and public policies are needed to allow law enforcement agencies to share fingerprint data more broadly.

Given the disparity in resources and information technology expertise available to local, state, and federal law enforcement agencies, the relatively slow pace of interoperability efforts to date, and the potential gains from increased AFIS interoperability, the committee believes that a broad-based emphasis on achieving nationwide fingerprint data interoperability is needed.

Recommendation 12:

Congress should authorize and appropriate funds for the National Institute of Forensic Science (NIFS) to launch a new broad-based effort to achieve nationwide fingerprint data interoperability. To that end, NIFS should convene a task force comprising relevant experts from the National Institute of Standards and Technology and the major law enforcement agencies (including representatives from the local, state, federal, and, perhaps, international levels) and industry, as appropriate, to develop:

  1. standards for representing and communicating image and minutiae data among Automated Fingerprint Identification Systems. Common data standards would facilitate the sharing of fingerprint data among law enforcement agencies at the local, state, federal, and even international levels, which could result in more solved crimes, fewer wrongful identifications, and greater efficiency with respect to fingerprint searches; and

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