Fingerprint Identification System
The buzzword of the 20th century is technology. The testament to that fact is the two World Wars that happened with only a couple of decades apart. In those days of conflict mankind saw the destructive brilliance of the power of genius; not only in harnessing information but also in using new found knowledge to create. Inventions and innovations were made and scientists from Japan to England tried to outwit each other in trying to find a tactical advantage. Both sides knew that it is in the quality of their technology where one could tip the scales to their favor.
In the 21st century, the geniuses of this generation have built on the foundation of the previous one. This time the word technology was appended with another powerful term – information. The fusion of the two terms has provided a simple description of what this age has become. The need for advancements in information technology has not spared every single sector of society. From education, to businesses, politics and even in law enforcement – the one who has greater access to information seems to be the richest in this new age.
Now the question is, what does information technology have to offer those in law enforcement? Well, everybody knows the basic answer to that query. As mentioned the revolution in information technology has affected everyone. Police precincts use the Internet as much as the average geek. The police officers manning those precincts may not be surfing the web for entertainment; yet they sure use it to enhance their communication systems.
In police work what is crucial to the improvement of their crime fighting abilities are two major technologies – communication and database. These new technologies enable law enforcement agencies to enhance their ability to efficiently store information and at the same time allow for the quick recovery of it when needed. Moreover, they now have the capability to quickly disseminate the same.
The communication aspect was well covered in the discussion of the world-wide-web. With regards to databases this is where police work becomes interesting. Not only does database technology allow for storage, it allows storage for future reference helping law enforcement agencies to solve crimes in the present as well as in the future. So what exactly can be stored in these databases? Before all that a little background information is in order.
A little History in Sleuthing
According to James Chu, in the turn of the 20th century, a revolutionary Henry System was introduced to law enforcement agencies. This system is a manual classification of fingerprints. Scores of technicians would look over paper cards that were fingers were once rolled with ink and then numerical values was assigned to a set of cards belonging to an individual. Chu revealed an interesting bit of trivia, “In fact the FBI built an extensive conveyor belt system to facilitate the movement and processing f the fingerprint cards” (2001).
In the 1980s there was little improvement with regards to a backbreaking exercise. Again Chu provides this information, “Providing result to local agencies became characterized by long delays […] In the first half of 1998, over 5,000 fugitives were inadvertently released because their fingerprint searches were not returned in time” (2001).
In the advent of a much improved fingerprint identification system initially known as Automated Fingerprint Identification System, “allows police to rapidly check fingerprints against those in a national database to identify known criminals or a suspect whose prints are in the system” (Jackson, Davis and Schwabe, 2001).
The acronym IAFIS was made popular by television series like NCIS, and Without A Trace. These TV shows have brought into the mainstream culture what law enforcement agencies have been doing in the past decade.
Integrated Automated Fingerprint Identification System or IAFIS is an improvement of the AFIS. Now with IAFIS, law enforcement agencies are not only able to store and retrieve fingerprint information more efficiently but also, “…provides for the electronic transmission, storage and processing of fingerprints” (The FBI Fingerprint Identification Automation Program). This simply means that those who are connected to an IAFIS can receive data much quickly. Those who are associated with IAFIS can upload data into the database from there current location in also the quickest time possible without incurring delays as experienced by the FBI in the 1980s.
Finally, there are other uses of fingerprint identification systems aside from crime related purposes. According to Lee and Gaenssien, law enforcement agencies were the first to adopt fingerprint identification technology but, “…increasing identity fraud has created a growing need for biometric technology for positive person identification in a number of non-forensic applications” (2003). Since 9/11 America’s need for security has quadrupled. This means that in order to combat terrorists fingerprint identification technology has to be improved and innovations in the area of personal identification can deter the commission of crimes.
Moreover, the emergence of biometrics has added to the growing list of subjects that policemen have to study. Now that person identification technology is installed in many factories and highly sensitive areas like chemical plants and nuclear facilities does not assure complete protection from trespassers and saboteurs. In this regard law enforcement agencies need to have special task force or a department adept in understanding how these kinds of systems work. They will be able to pass judgment if a person needs to be interrogated or needs to be arrested in relation to personal identification fraud.
There is an ongoing debate whether to have a national identification system or not. Again, this is a direct consequence of recent terrorist attacks happening around the world. The vulnerability of democratic nations in terms of easy access to its borders has been exploited to the hilt by extremists bent in doing extreme evil to said nations. It is then understandable why there is a clamor for a database where every adult in the United States can be tracked. This can even include all foreigners who come to visit the country whether short term or long term.
It is also clear why many object to these kind of anti-terrorism or anti-crime measures. Many argue that the fear of an attack does not warrant the establishment of such a system at the price of privacy. Others who are against a national identification system also fear that there is a possibility of abusing the information found in the said database. To underscore the difference of opinion held by other camps a book written by Don Rossignol documents the fact that others see this kind of identification system as a bid to gain economic and military dominion. In the said book, Rossignol remarked how a more stringent measure is being attempted to monitor foreign nationals, in a report he was able to get a hold of one can read the following:
The attorney General, in consultation with the appropriate heads of other Federal agencies, including the Secretary of State, Secretary of the Treasure, and the Secretary of Transportation shall report to Congress on the feasibility of enhancing the IAFIS of the FBI […] in order to better identify a person who holds a foreign passport…(2005)
Others are calling for more sensitivity in implementing a stricter system that seems only focused on tagging and tracking individuals. Salter, when talking about personal identification such as biometrics asserts the following, “…even the most ardent advocates of biometrics concede the need for public consultation and debate” (2001). The same author was concern about the lack of debate that could grapple with deep ethical and political concerns with how a government or even a corporation will proceed in gathering data about a certain person.
For sure there will be continuous innovations in the field of biometrics in general and fingerprint identification systems in particular. Technology will grow at an amazing rate that will allow for rapid identification of convicted felons becoming repeat offenders or providing evidence for an air-tight case against a suspect.
On the other hand there is a need for debate and vigilance in order to monitor where technology is leading this nation. Will technology become so powerful that it will forever be impossible to remain anonymous in this country? It must be understood that what makes America great is freedom. It is neither military might nor economic power. It is the ability of its citizens to do anything that they want to do within the bounds of law and the fact that they are not controlled by the whims of a dictator. The advent of powerful personal identification systems can erode that sense of freedom. A person can no longer travel incognito. The government or an employer can track down the movement of a person and he or she loses the privacy that was once enjoyed by countless generations.
The above scenario is not good. A more urgent problem that requires the participation of all taxpayers is a discussion on a more practical way on how to handle a national identification system. What must be addressed in such talks would be the sensitivity towards a person’s dignity and sense of privacy.
Chu, J. (2001). Law Enforcement Information Technology: A Managerial, Operational, and
Practical Guide. Florida: CRC Press.
Jackson, B.A., Davis, L.M. and Schwabe, W. (2001). Challenges and Choices for Crime-
Fighting Technology. Santa Monica, CA: Rand Corporation.
Lee, H. and Gaenssien, H.C. (2003). Advances in Fingerprint Technology. Kentucy: Francis and
Rossignol, D. (2005). Guilty or Innocent. Canada: Trafford Publishing
Salter, M.B. and Zureik, E. (2005). Global Surveillance and Policing. UK: William Publishing.
The FBI Fingerprint Identification Automation Program (2001) Washington: Diane Publishing.