FBI’s Next Generation Identification System Essay


The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) is an agency in the Department of Justice that provides internal intelligence as well as criminal investigation for the federal government of the United States of America. It has been operation in the country since 1908 with its headquarters in Washington, DC, in Edgar Hoover’s building named after its long-serving director. It also has several field offices in every major city in the country and extends its jurisdiction to every state of the United States. It shares its intelligence with other intelligence agencies in the world and can operate in other countries on special cases, especially those involving American citizens in diasporas. The FBI has several divisions, including the Counterterrorism Agency, the Counterintelligence Agency, the White Collar Division, and the Criminal Investigation Agency among others. It also investigates crimes in Native American reservations in the country. It is one of the best equipped intelligence and criminal investigation agencies in the world. The FBI has actively maintained a database to identify criminals not only in the United States, but also in the world. The database has assisted the agency as well as other police departments in criminal investigation and identification for more than 200 federal crime categories.

Next Generation Identification System

For several decades, the FBI has used the Integrated Automated Fingerprint Identification System (IAFIS) as the database for criminal investigation. The IAFIS system has been especially successful in maintaining criminal records for all crimes committed in the United States.

The system provides several services, including electronic storage of images, exchange of fingerprint, as well as fingerprint and latent search capabilities. As at August 2014, the IAFIS was the largest biometric database in the world. It provides responses to different searches and automatic updates for criminal information. The database has more than 70 million subjects listed in the master file. It also has more than 73,000 domestic and international suspected terrorists as well as more than 32 million civilians without a criminal record (Clarksburg, 2014). The bureau shares information with other international and domestic agencies and processes criminal history in collaboration with the agencies. The system records gun purchases that are legitimate as well as employment background automatically. Different firms also require employee’s personal information, which is recorded in the system upon the FBI’s request. Employers can also run background checks for their employees using the IAFIS by requesting the FBI to do that. The FBI acquires all fingerprints from state, federal, and local departments and adds them to the database, updating information of current subjects or adding new subjects (Li Salina & Salina, 2011).

Recently, the FBI has announced that the IAFIS system will be replaced by a fully-operational Next Generation Identification system. The system development has been initiated and implemented by Lockheed Martin in association with Safran. The Next Generation Identification (NGI) system is an improvement of the IAFIS by using advanced technology to update and maintain the biometric database. It is easily expandable and incorporates a wide range of information on criminal behavior. There are several companies involved in its creation, including IBM and BAE systems. The NGI system incorporates the IAFIS with advanced technical capabilities. The system has been influenced by advances in technology and increase in demand for the IAFIS and customer requirements for an advanced database to ensure protection of US citizens. The system is similar to the IAFIS, but has incorporated other technologies to diversify its functionality. The NGI system is expected to improve biometric identification capabilities of the IAFIS by using distinct information about subjects besides their fingerprints. The transition from the IAFIS to the NGI will be done in phases. Phase one began in September 2014, which will run for several years before evaluation and possible improvements. The system will offer the intelligence community an advanced biometric database with easier identification, providing flexibility in FBI’s capabilities. The Lockheed Martin Security Solutions Company has developed and maintains the systems to assist the bureau in the transition process (FBI, n.d.).

The Criminal Justice and Information Services Division (CJIS) of the FBI have pointed out that the NGI system is an important leap for the intelligence community. The CJIS has been the leading division in biometrics database globally with the NGI expanding its reputation in intelligence. The CJIS has given missions, goals, and objectives for the New Intelligence System. The system is expected to improve biometric identification and in turn reduce both criminal and terrorist activities. It is also expected to incorporate identification with criminal history by carrying out criminal evaluation, research, and advancements in technology through improvement of the IAFIS. The specific goals for the NGI given by the CJIS include being a global leader in biometric identification, national security, public safety, protection of data and privacy for all citizens, improving efficiency, and transitioning smoothly from other systems such as the IAFIS. In the NGI program, the CJIS has incorporated several international, federal, state, and local agencies. It has also utilized specialists from both security agencies and policy advisory committees to ensure that the NGI is a state-of-the-art program that does not violate both local and international legislation. The program is driven by several requirements in the intelligence communities. They include capacity, flexibility, accuracy, response time, availability, interoperability, and functionality. The drivers ensure that the NGI meets required standards of an advanced system (Clarksburg, 2014).

The NGI system has better capabilities as compared to the IAFIS. One of the capabilities is automation of the quality check. The check involves one of the review processes of the information in the system. Check of all transactions in the IAFIS had been performed manually in the past. In 2007, the auto quality check in the IAFIS system was implemented. The automated quality check capabilities of the system have made all fingerprint identification and update processes fully automatic without a manual review. The NGI system has an advanced capability of auto quality check. The IAFIS requires at least 15 percent manual evaluation even with automated check. However, the NGI system does is fully automated without the need for manual review. Full automation provides faster and more effective access to all programs by customers. The system also responds faster to request and fingerprint transactions, especially with a centralized access process. After requesting a transaction, the system can respond in less than 7 seconds as compared to the IAFIS system that requires as long as 16 hours for a response. The other improvement of the NGI system as compared to the IAFIS is enhancement of photo systems from all the states. The IAFIS only allows addition of criminal photographs through a specific ten-print process. The NGI utilizes the Interstate Photo System (IPS) that allows addition of photos with arrest data that has not been previously available in the IAFIS. Customers can now add photos of previous arrests in bulk as well from civil cases. Using the IPS, it is also easier to search and retrieve photos. The system is also able to search for other specific details of suspects such as marks, scars, tattoos, and other physical characteristics. Facial recognition is also incorporated in the NGI. The system can identify criminals by using as little information as possible such as a scar and narrow down possible subjects. Therefore, the system is faster and more efficient compared to other previous technologies (Clarksburg, 2014).

The NGI also has improvements in the submission of disposition data. The system allows to use the Interstate Identification Index and other electronic methods of submitting disposition data into the system. It also has other options for submission, including the use of CD-ROM, Wide Area Network from the CJIS, and other standard media. The system allows a direct connection between federal courts and customers.

The submission system was introduced in September of 2007 in the IAFIS. However, the NGI has included further improvements to the IAFAS system. The other form of improvements in the NGI includes fingerprint identification. The system applies identification technology that is efficient and faster as compared to the IAFIS system. There is an improvement in accuracy of searching for fingerprints using partial prints from crime scenes. Latent processing is improved in the NGI system as well. For justice purposes involving non-criminal purposes, the NGI system also provides seamless searches for fingerprints with ten-flat impressions. The fingerprint system is in incorporation with the Repository for Individuals with Special Concern (RISC). It provides for legislation governing fingerprint searches as well as collaboration with law enforcement agencies and experts in order to determine an identification service that shows the level of threat that specific subject in the system causes. Therefore, the system divides individuals into different categories according to their levels of threat to assist law enforcement agencies to determine how to conduct investigations. The system has several records for wanted persons, suspected and known terrorists, as well as sexual offenders with over two million subjects. The NGI system gives different colors for each category. It also gives the FBI a number of each subject with a fast search support. The RISC provides policies that maintain identities of different criminals in different categories as well as FBI’s advisories on individuals.

The NGI system also improves the IAFIS repository. The advanced repository with civil and criminal history for different subjects in the NGI improves effectiveness of the previous systems. It also enhances search and customer response services for customers. It streamlines as well as develops new internal processes for all users to improve the system’s effectiveness. The NGI has improved the update program for different subjects. The program enables the system to send notifications to relevant authorities that may be tracking the progress of subjects such as wanted persons. Individuals that are holding different master files on criminals receive updates on their subjects. There are planned improvements to introduce multimodal capabilities in biometric identification during the next year. The improvements are aimed at introducing an IRIS repository in the IAFIS. The system involves using IRIS data along with subjects’ photos, fingerprints, and other information. The IRIS repository will allow easy retrieval to assist in identification and searches using the IRIS information. The NGI also aims at improving information in the IAFIS to provide a palm print system. The system will allow the IAFIS to store, accept, and conduct searches using palm prints. International, federal, state, and local criminal and enforcement agencies can submit and access the palm print information in order to assist in investigations. The palm print system will also provide data that can provide NGI users in the country with an accepted and uniform system to access palm print information for different subjects, making it easier to solve crimes. For example, crime scenes may have a palm print lacking fingerprints, making it harder for the current IAFIS to identify subjects. However, the NGI will give criminal investigators and enforcement agencies more information to assist in biometric identification (Cammorata, 2012).

A multimodal biometric identification system involves the use of different characteristics such as the IRIS, fingerprints, facial and voice recognition, tattoos, and scars among others to identify subjects. The NGI system allows the multimodal system to identify and confirm the identity of subjects. It is an improvement to the unimodal system previously accepted by the IAFIS using fingerprint information only for identification. The identification techniques are soon to be improved to incorporate such characteristics as walking styles and facial shapes to identify subjects even after changing other characteristics such as a face-lift or tattoo removal. The NGI provides incorporations in such advancements as indexing as well as additional biometric data for all individuals. The system will make it possible to access interrogation tapes for different subjects and use voices in the tapes for voice recognition. The system also incorporates multimodal systems that are flexible, scalable, and expandable. It incorporates new technology and standards by using computer systems that can accommodate future biometric improvements. After its implementation in the late 2014, the NGI is expected to continue expanding by creating a database with as much subject information as possible. It will be easy for investigators and enforcement agencies to access history of specific individuals without a necessary visit of their neighborhoods for interrogations. It is also possible to get positive identification through confirmation of several subjects’ characteristics besides fingerprints as was earlier in the IAFIS. The system provides a higher level of sharing information among different customers and supports simultaneous operations. It will notify agencies investigating similar subjects on the updates of their cases. At the time of its launch, the FBI director pointed out that the system was one of the most important steps towards fighting modern day criminals who had advanced systems (Cammorata, 2012).

The system is capable of running tens of thousands of biometric searches per day without technical hitches. The CJIS has incorporated advanced computer servers to ensure that the centralized NGI system is fast and effective. It is possible to process more than 60,000 photos a day accessed from different locations across the country. The database is expected to contain more than 55 million faces for different subjects after only three months of operations due to ease of submission by individuals with the relevant authority. The system also provides capabilities enabling quick identification based on fingerprints and photos such as during a traffic stop. The CJIS has pointed out that the pilot program for the NGI system has been carried out in different cities to prove that the project is applicable on the ground. Some of the states include Michigan, Hawaii, and Maryland. The states that have been on the frontline in pilot programs for the system and documents show that the process has been successful. By the year 2015, the FBI expects that it will run more than 55,000 photograph searches per day.

It also expects that facial recognition will be faster and more effective due to the system’s capabilities. Every police precinct can use the system for at least 200 times per day without delays in responses. The facial recognition program also utilizes new technology that is compatible with government-issued computers for all law enforcement agencies (FBI, n.d.).

There are different ways in which individual photos could end up in the system. Photographs are the most ideal trackers due to an increase in surveillance cameras in American cities. One of the most common ways is through mugshots that are submitted after arrests. It is also possible to submit photographs through security cameras that are connected to the government grids like photos from friends and family after requests by law enforcement agencies. There are more than thirty million security cameras in the country, offering an ideal source for biometric data for the NGI system. The government as well as the private sector carries out background checks for individuals before employment. Information obtained is added to the NGI system. The system has a faster response of less than ten minutes after requesting a search compared to the IAFIS system that took up to 24 hours to issue a response. The NGI system has cost the American government approximately $1 billion in its pilot program. The software has been developed by MorphoTrust, a software company based in Massachusetts (Cammorata, 2012).

The methods that the FBI will use to gather data raise concerns over individual privacy. One of the main concerns is that the system can be used to track citizens despite their criminal history. The NGI system does not discriminate in data submission and can track innocent citizens. There are also concerns that focusing on innocent citizens is a waste of taxpayers’ resources as the focus should be on criminals. The Justice Department has promised that it will release details about the program in due time upon the request of the Electronic Frontier Foundation. The FBI has pointed out that it will utilize the network of surveillance cameras across the nation to access footages only in crime scenes or while tracking known criminals. The bureau has pointed out that it will utilize cameras to spot criminals from a crowd and track their movement without necessarily entering data about other civilians in the crowd. The system will make it easier to track specific individual’s movements across the nation. Several activists have pointed out that CCTV surveillance, especially in places of work, may be utilized by the government to track people without their consent. To curb the problem of privacy, the CJIS vows to follow different legislations on safety and privacy of the people when deploying and utilizing the system. The biometric data that the system records should be used only based on the necessary justification (Boon & Lovelace, 2014).

The FBI has stated that it will utilize all photos that the system records for identification in the future. It is impossible to determine a potential criminal in a crowd, especially without a criminal history. It does not imply that an innocent person may not commit a crime at a later date. Therefore, information that the NGI system records can be used at a later date to identify people who have committed crimes. It is up to law enforcement officers to determine whether the information can be submitted in court. There are several ground rules that the bureau has given to govern the use of the NGI system to ensure that its usage does not jeopardize safety and privacy of the American citizens. The system does not give the government the right to collect any data on subjects if it has not been possible before. There are several legislations hindering collection of private information such as body data and DNA. The laws remain in effect even with the system in place.

The requirements also require law enforcement officers to investigate crimes fully before making arrests. Therefore, they cannot rely entirely on facial recognition that the system provides to justify an arrest. Officers should investigate the crime to determine connection before making conclusions and not leave it to the NGI system to make conclusions about a crime. The NGI system guidelines also hinder the use of social media as a tool for surveillance. The government can use social networks such as Twitter, Instragram, and Facebook among others to collect individual data. Photos that are in the social networking sites are private information and cannot be used as a source of biometric data for the NGI system. People might mistake the NGI system as a tool for photographs and fingerprints. However, it notifies law enforcement officers when people in positions of trust violate the law. For example, the system alerts police officers when a schoolteacher is involved in suspicious activities that might violate their position of trust (Cammorata, 2012).

When launching the NGI system in September, the head of the CJIS pointed out the world was shifting from physical to biometric data. The system will require scanning all physical information that law enforcement officers maintain to include biometric data. The FBI will then ensure that information is shared freely with other agencies in the country. Interoperability will enable the biometric database to share information and compare intelligence with other databases such as the ones maintained by the Department of Defense and Homeland Security. The FBI will then determine clearance levels to determine individuals who can access information from the system. More sharing of information opens up possibilities that can compromise the NGI system. It is also possible to have access to information by individuals who may jeopardize other agencies. To ensure that the system is not compromised, there are guidelines for submitting, updating, and accessing information. The clearance levels enable specific individuals to access specific subjects. The military contractor that maintains the system is also required to use state-of-the-art firewall systems to ensure that the system is not prone to hacks or information leaks. The system will contain information about millions of individuals, making security an important factor in its maintenance (Campisi 2013).

The implementation of the NGI system is intended to occur in seven distinct stages. It is now on the third stage of deployment. Stage 0 of the program involved updating of working stations of all law enforcement agencies in the country. New workstations are compatible with the software requirements of the NGI system. The second stage involved updating of the fingerprint process. The improvement enabled faster and effective fingerprint submissions and access with faster central servers and workstations. The third stage involved the RISC program, creating a repository for people with special concerns such as individuals with mental and physical disabilities. The RISC program guides law enforcement agencies across the country on how to proceed when such individuals are involved. The fourth stage, Increment 3, involves the palm print and latent print additions, enabling searches and data submission. The other stages are in the process of implementation after deploying the system on a nationwide scale. Increment 4 involves additional body data for identification. The data include facial recognition programs, rap back, and addition of search parameters such as tattoos, scars, and other unique physical characteristics. The stage is ongoing in implementation and much of the foundations have been implemented. The stage has been expected to be completed by the summer of 2014, especially in terms of a fully-working facial recognition program. The next stage will involve an IRIS recognition database. The final stage of the program involves evaluation and updates of the entire program. By the beginning of 2015, the CJIS expects that the entire program will be fully operational (Bessis & Xhafa, 2011).

The Biometric Center of Excellence (BCOE) is working actively with the FBI to improve the system. It is looking into new identifies to improve biometric identification in the NGI system. The center is currently carrying out a research on technologies to improve biometric capabilities in both collecting biometric data and improving response time during searches. One of the leaps that the BCOE is expected to make in the coming years is a fully automated facial recognition program in videos and surveillance footages. The center is also looking into automated voice recognition as well as ear-lobe identification. There are also other capabilities that the bureau is expected to investigate. The improvements in biometric capabilities will increase the probabilities of an innocent people will enter into the NGI database. Through improvements in the program, it will be easier to identify people from videos in a crowd or even identify a person after changes in their physical characteristics. The rap back program allows the bureau to use background checks as a means of collecting biometric data. Facial recognition capabilities increase collection of biometric data. The rap back program has been used by the government to monitor people’s progress. It is a continuous background check that equates an individual’s progress. Through the checks, it is possible to determine whether people are re-arrested during parole or after release from correctional facilities. It also monitors people in positions of trust such as bankers and teachers to determine whether their actions jeopardize safety of their trustees. The system requires that individuals in the positions of trust submit their fingerprints and photographs to enable monitoring. After a civilian attains 75 years of age, the information in the NGI system is deleted. However, criminals must attain 99 years for their records to be deleted from the system (Bessis & Xhafa, 2011).

There are several issues that have put accuracy and capabilities of the NGI program into a spotlight. One of the issues involves using facial recognition technology in the program and validity of accuracy in a court of law. The FBI has stated that most resources in the program are directed towards improved facial recognition capabilities. The biometric database utilizes most of its server space for photographs and facial recognition capabilities. According to the CJIS, the use of images is more efficient since photographs are easy to capture, share, copy, store, and access. There are also more images due to increased surveillance in streets and buildings as well as in the global media. Mobile phones are connected to the internet, making it easier to access images. Communication methods and social networks available also use videos and photographs at an increasing rate. Therefore, the use of facial recognition is efficient in identifying individuals and tracking them using surveillance cameras. It is also easier to identify people from datasets or electronic equipment such as computers. However, the accuracy of facial recognition is questionable. According to reports from activists such as the EPIC, the FBI uses facial recognition technology during law suits. Different officers have been willing to accept and submit photographs as evidence in court after facial recognition that is wrong in 20 percent of cases. Therefore, 1 in every 5 people the FBI identified as criminals were mistaken identities in 2010. The searches did not produce a match 15 percent of the time, despite the fact that the subjects were in the database. The errors that were seen in that year were higher compared to those from fingerprint searches by the IAFIS. Fingerprint searches were wrong only 0.3 percent of the time. The searches were negative only 1 percent of the time. Therefore, the use of facial recognition technology is not accurate and its use as evidence in court should be evaluated critically (Bessis & Xhafa, 2011).

There are hearings submitted by private corporations and individuals about the use of the NGI system in the United States. One of the most popular hearings is whether the FBI should consider the use of facial recognition and drones, i.e. actions made possible by the NGI program.

There was a senate judiciary committee hearing in May to determine parameters governing the use of drones. The oversight committee determined that the FBI was using drones for surveillance in the country. It also determined that the bureau was actively using facial recognition from the surveillance from both drones and a network of surveillance cameras. The bureau promised that it would establish privacy guidelines to limit the usage of the data from the program. According to independent observers in the FBI, it has failed to honor its promises. It has continued to use surveillance, especially with improvements in the NGI system. The program has improved the process of domestic surveillance with private implications on the public. The bureau has justified its actions by stating that all resources used in surveillance are actually to the government’s benefit. The public is worried that the program does not guarantee protection of their civil liberties. Facial recognition algorithms that the system is applying raise questions on the accuracy of domestic surveillance with risks of jeopardizing public safety. The source of repository photos in the NGI biometric database is also questionable. The system allows submission of both low and high resolution photos for both criminal and non-criminal subjects. Bulk submissions that law enforcement officers perform make the accuracy of future searches doubtful. The bureau should set proper guidelines on information submission and updates of the system (Campisi 2013).


The NGI system that the bureau has launched this year raises implications about the safety of citizens. The program is an important tool in surveillance and identification, which is the biggest biometric database in the world for both civilians and criminals. The bureau shares information in the database with tribal, local, state, federal, and international law enforcement agencies. It also makes updates when necessary. The system is in its final stages of implementation in all states across the country. Its implementation is a big leap in the domain of intelligence and identification. It will allow the government to track criminals easily as well as monitor progress of individuals in positions of trust such as teachers and doctors. For the program to succeed, the FBI must work together with all agencies, including the Department of  Defense, the Homeland Security, and the State Department. It must also use proper security measures to ensure that information remains in the hands of right people.