FBI plans major database upgrade
Bureau outlines interoperability plans and considers adding biometric data
- By Wilson P. Dizard III
- Aug 24, 2006
The devils are in the details. The technical part was more straightforward, the business and policy parts have been pretty tough.' Tom Bush, CJIS
The FBI's Criminal Justice Information Service Division is laying detailed plans for a comprehensive revamping of its massive fingerprint database that will enhance interoperability with the Homeland Security Department's biometric records and clear the path for adding additional types of biometrics.
To mark the major changes, the bureau plans to change the name of its Integrated Automated Fingerprint Identification System to Next Generation Identification. The systems upgrade will involve a procurement in the range of 'hundreds of millions of dollars' with a proposal request phase beginning next January, officials said.
'We realized we needed a multimodal capability,' CJIS assistant director Tom Bush said. 'We have been viewed as a fingerprints database; primarily we are and we will be, because we have 50 million 10-print fingerprints on file.'
'We want to be able to plug and play with the new biometrics as they mature,' he said.
Bush noted that new biometric techniques such as facial recognition, iris scans, palm authentication and even DNA now are gaining importance, and CJIS officials want their system to be ready to process them.
CJIS has been planning the NGI upgrade for more than a year [GCN.com/670]. Observers note that the system's focus on meeting federal, state and local agency needs give it a better-than-average chance of success.
Part of the reason for the upgrade is to reduce the IAFIS error factor of 2 percent. Demand for IAFIS fingerprint searches has been increasing, partly because background checks are becoming more popular with corporations and state legislatures. While Congress initially mandated a capacity level for IAFIS of 62,500 matches daily, the system's busiest day so far has reached the 100,000 level.
The rate of system errors at that volume has caused some widely publicized identification failures and driven calls for improvements from CJIS' customers.
The expected January 2007 contract award date, however, appears to have slipped by several months. Last year, industry analysts predicted a contract award this autumn. CJIS officials have been busy in the meantime conducting a survey of system users that brought in information from more than 1,000 sources.
Consultants IntelliDyne LLC of Falls Church, Va., now are identifying the functional and technical requirements for NGI.
The three-phase process to build NGI will begin with an interim Data Sharing Model set to be rolled out Sept. 3. The January 2007 proposal request will focus on the next two steps in building NGI, known as the Initial Operating Capability and Final Operating Capability (see chart).Need to compare
An increasingly important factor driving NGI is CJIS' need to increase its systems capacity to help compare IAFIS and IDENT records.
The NGI upgrade will finesse some of the technical issues hindering interoperability of IAFIS and IDENT, such as the difference between the FBI's previous approach of 10-finger rolled prints and IDENT's former approach of a two-finger flat-print method.
One federal source noted that, in the past, CJIS had strongly favored the 10-finger rolled-print approach to data gathering and storing, on the basis that 'the rolled standard is the gold standard.'
During those years, CJIS officials rejected interoperability overtures from IDENT managers in the Justice Department's Immigration and Naturalization Service, who were gathering tens of millions of two-finger flat prints, to accept their data. Later, responsibility for managing IDENT shifted to DHS but data-sharing between the systems languished.
But in March 2005, DHS secretary Michael Chertoff ordered his department to switch to a 10-fingerprint approach, which will make comparing IDENT and IAFIS' records much more accurate.
The State Department, DHS and the FBI have been planning the upgrade to 10 fingerprints via a group called the Integrated Project Team, launched in May 2005.
Meanwhile, the fingerprint technology industry and CJIS' state and local customers have embraced flat prints.
DHS uses flat prints in its U.S. Visitor and Immigrant Status Indicator Technology system, for example.
IDENT and IAFIS use different algorithms to capture and store fingerprint data, but CJIS managers are using international standards to convert the DHS data for FBI use.
Bush added that CJIS is strengthening its links with the Pentagon and looks to achieve real-time, online comparison of prints from evidence such as improvised explosive devices found in Iraq.
CJIS has achieved increasing levels of fingerprint data sharing with DHS agencies since 2001. For example, all major Border Patrol stations now have access to IAFIS data via their IDENT systems, which have secure links back to the FBI database.
Border Patrol officers have been finding that about 13 percent of illegal aliens caught at the border already have IAFIS records.
Reaching through IDENT to IAFIS data is not the same as achieving interoperability of the systems, which would be a higher level of data sharing. Interoperability is also different from 'integrating' IDENT and IAFIS, a term frequently used in the policy discussions, specialists say.
There are some legal and policy reasons why IDENT and IAFIS will not be fully integrated, sources said. For example, IDENT includes fingerprint data gathered by the State Department overseas according to laws and procedures that vary dramatically from the policies that govern IAFIS.
When NGI is complete, it will also include a 'rapback' capability that CJIS' customers have been requesting for years, FBI and DHS officials said.
The rapback function alerts an agency of law violations by any individual to whom it has granted a security clearance, immigration benefit such as legal permanent resident status, or back- ground check approval to work as a teacher or daycare employee. U.S. Visit director Robert Mocny cited the importance of the rapback function to his program in a recent meeting with reporters.
The rapback function will influence such tasks as probation and parole supervision as well as the civil work CJIS does. CJIS conducts about 54 percent of its criminal background checks for the civil sector, such as banks, insurance companies, stockbrokers and school systems, while law enforcement agencies provide the remainder: a 46 percent share of criminal work.So far so good
Independent observers of CJIS' planning for the Next Generation IAFIS said the organization's prospects for success compared favorably with those of the FBI's central office for building the Sentinel case management system.
The division's focus on meeting the data needs of its customers'rather than on generating prosecutions, as most of the FBI does'is a factor. While CJIS is an FBI entity, its leaders answer to the organization's own board, which is dominated by representatives of the division's customers among state and local police forces.
Accordingly, CJIS technology leaders had to start by resolving organizational and procedural issues from the bottom up, based on the demands of their customers, according to independent sources, rather than building a major system with direction from the top down, as the bureau did with its failed Virtual Case File system.
Bush noted that achieving consensus on policies and procedures for NGI had been hard. 'The devils are in the details,' Bush said. 'The technical part was more straightforward, [but] the business and policy parts have been pretty tough.'
Whatever its difficulties in achieving policy consensus among its state and federal customers, CJIS has built credibility for technology aptitude with some of its key overseers.
'They are going to put the rest of the FBI to shame,' said one independent source with direct access to CJIS' plans. 'They are a high-functioning agency, especially on a technical level,' the technical and policy source said.
CJIS' prospects for success with the NGI are strengthened by the organization's deep bench of technically astute employees, according to two independent observers of the organization.
'CJIS has all the project management experience it needs for this and has brought in dramatically better IT people in recent years,' one federal source from an outside agency said. The technically trained source said that a cohort of computer-savvy employees CJIS hired about seven years ago now is moving into influential jobs.Unfinished business
As it looks to the future of biometrics and IAFIS' accuracy, CJIS has unfinished business in upgrading the links between IAFIS and DHS' IDENT database.
The FBI has been providing DHS information about some of the most dangerous criminals whose fingerprints appear in IAFIS in an extract form that IDENT can read.
'Right now, we are giving them an extract of some 600,000 [records],' Bush said.
The division doesn't have the ability to modify those records yet, but the early-phase upgrade scheduled for next month will provide a proof of concept for the capability, CJIS said.
For its part, DHS has been delivering some categories of IDENT fingerprints of offenders categorized as 'the worst of the worst,' such as those who have undergone expedited removal from the country, while the State Department is contributing 'critical visa denials.'
Congress has pushed hard for interoperability between the DHS and FBI fingerprint databases, mandating it in the USA Patriot Act passed in 2001, the Border Security Act of 2002, the Homeland Security Department Appropriations Act of 2004 and the Justice Department Appropriations Act of 2005.
Congress' patience has been sorely tried. In March 2004, then-DHS secretary Tom Ridge promised during a hearing of the House Appropriations Committee Homeland Security Subcommittee that his department would integrate the databases long before a four-year target date that the Justice Department's inspector general had just forecast in a critical report.
Now the deadline for complete interoperability has stretched to early 2010, six years after Ridge's promise.
IDENT is sometimes referred to in DHS documents as the Automated Biometric Identification System.
Updating the FBI Criminal Justice Information Services division's Integrated Automated Fingerprint Identification System will affect performance within in a closely-linked net of subsystems:
- The Identification Tasking and Networking subsystem is IAFIS' 'traffic cop,' providing workflow and workload management for ten-print, latent-print and document processing.
- The Interstate Identification Index provides subject search, criminal history data, and criminal photo storage and retrieval.
- The Automated Fingerprint Identification System searches FBI records for matches.
- All the IAFIS subsystems rely on the CJIS WAN, which provides secure communications with other federal, state and local law enforcement agencies as well as civil data clients.
- The external systems include the state Control Terminal Agencies, state identification bureaus, federal service coordinators and IAFIS' front-end communications.
- The National Law Enforcement Telecommunications System supports legacy binary synchronous communications with state CTAs.