Full steam ahead for FBI’s biometric NGI system
15 September 2014 16:44 GMT

The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) Criminal Justice Information Services (CJIS) Division has announced full operational capability of its Next Generation Identification (NGI) System.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) Criminal Justice Information Services (CJIS) Division has announced full operational capability of its Next Generation Identification (NGI) System. The FBI’s NGI System was developed to expand the Bureau’s biometric identification capabilities, ultimately replacing its Integrated Automated Fingerprint Identification System (IAFIS) in addition to adding new services and capabilities.

As part of NGI’s full operational capability, the NGI team says it is introducing two new services: Rap Back and the Interstate Photo System (IPS). Rap Back enables authorized entities to receive ongoing status notifications of any criminal history reported on individuals holding positions of trust, such as school teachers. Law enforcement agencies, probation and parole offices, and other criminal justice entities will also greatly improve their effectiveness by being advised of subsequent criminal activity of persons under investigation or supervision.

The IPS facial recognition service will provide the USA’s law enforcement community with an investigative tool that provides an image-searching capability of photographs associated with criminal identities. This effort is a significant step forward for the criminal justice community in utilizing biometrics as an investigative enabler.

This latest phase of NGI is only one portion of the FBI’s NGI System. Since phase one was deployed in February 2011, the NGI system has introduced enhanced automated fingerprint and latent search capabilities, mobile fingerprint identification, and electronic image storage, all while adding enhanced processing speed and automation for electronic exchange of fingerprints to more than 18,000 law enforcement agencies and other authorized criminal justice partners 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.

Earlier this year more than 30 privacy organizations teamed up to demand that the FBI conducted and published a privacy impact assessment (PIA) for its Next Generation Identification (NGI) database.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) said the capacity of the FBI to collect and retain information has grown exponentially. It is essential, EFF says, "for the American public to have a complete picture of all the programs and authorities the FBI uses to track our daily lives and an understanding of how those programs affect our civil rights and civil liberties."

FBI officials said it was wrong to think the FBI collected images in any general kind of way. "These are only lawfully collected mugshot images during the incident to arrest," one senior official said.

The database of mugshots in March reportedly stood at 17 million individuals in the repository. However, the overall FBI criminal master file has more than 70 million people in it, and most of these have mugshots attached to them. The FBI official said pilots were underway to include these mugshots so that "very quickly there will be a much larger repository available to search".

Further search opportunities exist - but only for direct FBI case work, it emerged. FBI attorneys and privacy officials have reportedly negotiated with various state and local DMVs, as well as the Department of State and others, to allow additional database searches, meaning that the FBI has access to roughly 270 million individuals images. However, these are only searchable against in connection with a properly predicated investigation, the FBI official stressed.

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