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Technology Talk

A Leap Forward for Biometric Services

Brian Edgell, Chief, NGI Implementation and Transition Unit, FBI CJIS Division

The Federal Bureau of Investigation’s (FBI’s) Next Generation Identification (NGI) program represents a leap forward in the availability of biometric services to local, state, tribal, and federal criminal justice agencies. The goal of NGI is to replace the FBI’s workhorse Integrated Automated Fingerprint Identification System (IAFIS) with state-of-the-art multi-modal biometric services that provide not only the legacy tenprint and latent fingerprint searches, but also palm print services; rapid by-the-side-of-the-road fingerprint identification; facial recognition investigative services; text-based scars, marks, and tattoo searches—even iris services are in planning. NGI is being built within the Criminal Justice Information Services Division (CJIS) of FBI, alongside the National Crime Identification Center (NCIC), the National Sex Offender Registry, Uniform Crime Reporting, and the other CJIS programs. The FBI is also separately investigating Rapid DNA services that would serve as the perfect complement to the enhanced NGI services.

Increased Accuracy and Reduced Response Times

The benefits of these enhanced services to criminal justice agencies manifested themselves right from the beginning stages of NGI deployment in early 2011. The early upgrades of the core infrastructure for NGI included enhanced fingerprint match technology, providing greater than 99 percent matching accuracy. Submitting agencies immediately saw increased matches on their tenprint arrest fingerprint submissions and faster response times.

Rapid Roadside Fingerprint Identification

FBI CJIS deployed the Repository for Individuals of Special Concern (RISC) Rapid Search capability in the summer of 2011 as part of NGI Increment 2. This capability allows officers by the side of the road to scan two fingers of an individual who might be attempting to elude detection of a warrant or other negative status and, within minutes, receive results from a search of the following FBI CJIS databases: Wanted Persons (when the FBI number is in the NCIC record), Immigration Violators, Known or Appropriately Suspected Terrorists, and Sexual Offender Registry Subjects. With more than 650 agencies now participating, NGI receives just under 1,200 RISC queries a day. Slightly over 5 percent of the queries result in “red” matching hits, with approximately 75 percent of those being identified as wanted and approximately 25 percent listed as sex offenders.

RISC transactions also search the NGI Unsolved Latent File (ULF), which stores latent fingerprints that have not been matched to a known identity. RISC searches have resulted in some near-immediate identification leads for suspects and persons of interest to investigations, resulting in crimes being solved that otherwise may not have reached conclusion. With the deployment of NGI’s Increment 4 in the summer of 2014, photos of the matched person will be returned as part of the RISC response, if requested and available.

National Palm Print System

NGI Increment 3, deployed in May of 2013, included the creation of the National Palm Print System (NPPS). The NPPS makes palm print services available to the criminal justice community, allowing for the national collection and searching of palms. CJIS has approximately 2.7 million palm prints in the NPPS at present and are adding an average of 8,000 palm prints a day from current criminal submissions. CJIS is also working offline to process the legacy palm prints that have been collected since 2005 for enrollment in the NPPS of those meeting the technical and policy requirements.

Latent Service Enhancements

Increment 3 also transitioned latent fingerprint services to the new NGI infrastructure, which provides greatly enhanced latent print capabilities. All criminal justice agencies contributing latent prints immediately benefited from threefold improvement in matching accuracy, the ability to search the fingerprints from all events, and expanded cascade services of the ULF. Additionally, for those authorized agencies that have made the technical changes to participate, the ability to search the Civil Repository has contributed to solving additional cases. In a related capability, up-to-date Universal Latent Workstation (ULW) users can now submit latent palm prints to NGI.

Interstate Photo System

The deployment of NGI Increment 4 in the summer of 2014 will include significant enhancements to the Interstate Photo System (IPS) and the brand new investigative facial recognition capability. The IPS repository holds the mug shot photos of persons arrested, together with pictures of their scars, marks, and tattoos. The national investigative facial recognition capability being provided by NGI will allow authorized criminal justice agencies to search those mug shot photos for investigative criminal justice purposes. NGI’s facial recognition will accept photos for search (probe photos) obtained by criminal justice agencies through any authorized means, but those photos will be searched only against the IPS repository, which is not connected to any external databases. For privacy, photos submitted to NGI will not be searched against any other photo sources, such as driver license files, Facebook photos, publicly gathered photos, and so forth. The facial recognition search requests are processed automatically (lights out), and results are returned in a ranked investigative candidate list. Although the program has only just begun, the facial recognition searches completed to date have already provided agencies with leads that have solved cases.

FBI CJIS is undertaking a major effort with the states and their local agencies to input their existing files of mug shots to increase the value of this service. The mug shots must have the appropriate identifiers and must be validated with tenprints stored in NGI. At present, the repository contains over 18 million searchable mug shot photos.

The NGI Program Office can provide authorized agencies with no-cost Universal Facial Workstation (UFW) software that works on readily available hardware to submit facial searches to IPS. This service is similar to the no-cost Universal Latent Workstation (ULW) software that CJIS provides for latent print searches.

Criminal Justice Rap Back

Many states provide their law enforcement, criminal justice agencies, and authorized non-criminal justice applicant entities with the capability to “subscribe” to a person through their Automated Fingerprint Identification Systems (AFIS). The state notifies those agencies or applicant entities when the person is arrested or has other criminal justice activity posted to their criminal history record (e.g., an arrest warrant is entered into NCIC [if the FBI number is included in the entry], a disposition to a previous arrest is reported to FBI CJIS, the person is reported deceased). This function is usually called a “Rap Back” service. With NGI, FBI CJIS will implement a national Rap Back service that will provide subscription notifications to criminal justice agencies and applicant entities even when the arrest is from out of state, something not presently available. This national service provides the capability for states to ensure they are providing the best services and protections to their authorized applicant entities, and it provides a significant enhancement to the subscription notification services that states had previously been able to offer their law enforcement and criminal justice agencies.

Iris Capability Pilot

Increment 5 of NGI includes an Iris Pilot capable of performing iris image recognition services. The Iris Pilot capability is deploying at present and allows for the evaluation of the technology in an operational setting while addressing some of the key challenges associated with the technology’s use for a large-scale criminal justice application. The goal is to build toward a national iris repository that will increase the usability of iris biometrics. The Iris Pilot will allow for iris images maintained within local, state, tribal, and federal agency databases that meet submission criteria to be submitted in bulk or as single submissions.

The Iris Pilot will inform and guide future system design and development, but the current vision focuses on the most common uses of iris recognition services as currently employed by criminal justice agencies throughout the United States. Accordingly, core functionality will include two types of searches: (1) an “Iris Identification Search” that will return a positive or negative match and will be appropriate for population control and similar implementations; and (2) an “Iris Investigative Search” that will result in a list of candidates being returned to the inquiring agency in a fashion similar to the facial recognition investigative searches. The goal is to provide the criminal justice community with the most robust national iris service possible.

Some Lessons Learned

NGI has been incrementally deploying updates since early 2011. During that time, the NGI Program Office has worked closely with federal, state, and local agencies who want to maximize their benefit and participate in NGI enhancements as soon as the new increments are deployed. Even in these early stages of incremental deployment, several key lessons have been learned that contribute to the quality of the data and the investigative potential of these important national resources.

Training and Data Quality
Agencies that have extensively trained those staff who are tasked with the collection of relevant data (e.g., biographic, biometric, charge, disposition) on how the data is used in investigative operations have found that staff better understand the dramatic consequences of incorrect, incomplete, or low-quality biometric data, which in turn leads to improvements in data quality. In addition, agencies that have implemented ongoing monitoring of data collection processes and regular assessments of data quality have realized substantive improvements in efficiency and data quality.

Use of Standards
Standards typically improve data quality by enforcing universal definitions, structure, and rules regarding data collection, data storage, coding, and reporting requirements. Local agencies that work closely with their state identification bureaus (SIBs) in implementing standards to ensure compliance with state and federal reporting requirements and work with their industry solution providers to ensure that technology procurements, upgrades, and refreshes meet these standards significantly improve the quality and enhance the currency of their information contributed now or in the future.

Agencies that have highly standardized workflow processes with stringent enforcement for collecting biometrics are better able to prevent the inadvertent comingling of biometric records from different persons (i.e., attaching the wrong fingerprints, mug shots, or other biometric files to a submission to the SIB or the FBI). To create the most effective operational workflow, agencies may want to investigate whether the mug shots; scars, marks, and tattoos; DNA; and iris capture, as appropriate, can be integrated into the real-time functions of the fingerprint booking process.

Immediate Value

All these services are available to law enforcement and criminal justice agencies across the United States in the same manner as NCIC and fingerprint services have always been available from the FBI. Agencies can participate in the investigative searches and the other benefits of the evolving role of biometrics in the criminal justice world by participating in NGI now. As with all CJIS systems, the services flow through the state CJIS systems agency (CSA) and CJIS systems officer (CSO) in each state. The SIB, the agency in each state to which local agencies send their arrest fingerprint submissions, is deploying NGI at the state level. In some states, the SIB may be separate from the CSA. The CSA and SIB will coordinate on the deployment of NGI to their local agencies.

Agencies interested in participating immediately, or seeking additional information for planning purposes, should reach out to their state CSOs, who can direct them to the SIB or other in-state personnel for discussion. In addition, the CSO and SIB can contact their NGI regional representative in the NGI Program Office at (304) 625-3437. The NGI regional representatives will work with the CSOs and SIBs and their agencies to evaluate their current system capabilities and develop strategies for going forward with participation in these new and valuable services. ♦

IACP Technology Center

The IACP provides a number of technology resources on the website, including the IACP Technology Center, which functions as a comprehensive resource for law enforcement agencies and IACP members in planning, implementing, and managing technology. Visit the IACP Technology Center at to learn more.

Please cite as:

Brian Edgell, “A Leap Forward for Biometric Services,” Technology Talk, The Police Chief 81 (April 2014): 80–81.



From The Police Chief, vol. LXXXI, no. 4, April 2014. Copyright held by the International Association of Chiefs of Police, 515 North Washington Street, Alexandria, VA 22314 USA.

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