By MICHAEL ERB
For The Intelligencer
CLARKSBURG - While the technology seen on TV shows like "CSI" isn't exactly realistic, the FBI's existing technology is about as close as an agency can get, officials told West Virginia legislators Tuesday.
The FBI's more than $1 billion Next Generation Identification system, which has been in development for six years, will be fully implemented next month. Stephen Morris, assistant director of Criminal Justice Information Services Division in Clarksburg, said Tuesday the system, which replaces the FBI's Integrated Automated Fingerprint Identification System, will be complete this fall.
Morris talked about the system during a tour of the Clarksburg offices by the West Virginia Legislature's Joint Committee on Technology.
The NGI system includes hundreds of millions of fingerprint files, but also brings in multiple other elements of biometrics to form a comprehensive database, Morris said. The system can help identify suspects in crimes based not only on fingerprints, but also other forms of identification, from scars and tattoos to latent prints and even a person's eyes and irises.
Morris said the system also uses facial recognition technology which, while not as reliable and effective as fingerprints for identifying suspects, is quickly becoming an invaluable tool for law enforcement.
"The sort of stuff you see on "CSI," that doesn't really happen, but we'd like to believe that it is closer to being real," he said. "The technology advances so quickly, three years ago we didn't think we'd be where we are today."
Morris said facial recognition technology, like many of the biometrics systems used to help identify suspects, helps narrow the field and supports other forms of identification.
"Where fingerprinting is a one-to-one match, facial recognition is one-to-many," he said. "We've chased a lot of bad guys around, and (with fingerprints alone) we were just chasing names. Now we have a face that goes with that name."
The system also can be used to alert law enforcement officers to particularly dangerous situations. Morris said the Repository for Individuals of Special Concerns allows officers in the field to use a handheld thumb scanner if a suspect is believed to be dangerous. The scan is instantly compared to a database of "the worst of the worst," such as those who have outstanding warrants for sexual or violent crimes.
"These are the folks that police officers need to know who they're dealing with," Morris said. The information is returned within only a few minutes because the system is only searching a few million fingerprints rather than hundreds of millions, and it's only searching for the thumbprint.
The CJIS continues to act as a database for law enforcement agencies throughout the United States. Morris said the National Crime Information Center, often referred to as NCIS, is used by officers to instantly check for warrants. Morris said only a few weeks ago, the NCIS system had its busiest day, receiving more than 14,000 queries in a 24-hour period. Each result, he said, was returned within a fraction of a second.
Morris acknowledged some of the new technologies, including facial recognition, generates some suspicion and concern from the public.
"We are very attuned to the civil liberties of our citizens," he said. "We are very aware of that."
Morris said the NGI cost just over $1 billion, but he said the system already is providing tremendous service to the more than 18,000 law enforcement agencies served by the CJIS.