CLARKSBURG - 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, or IAFIS, will deliver "Increment 4" in September the final phase of the project, "which really represents the system going fully operational.
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 1-to-1 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, or RISC, 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 "it's only searching a couple million fingerprints rather than hundreds of millions, and it's only searching the thumbprint. We've had great success with these.
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 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 said the FBI has partnered with academia and private industry to help develop the technology and techniques used in biometrics. For example, the CJIS has partnered with West Virginia University to use the college's vast archive of fingerprints and other student data to test systems and methods of identifying people.
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 more than $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.
The CJIS division in Clarksburg employs 2,600 full-time employees, 1,200 contractors, and provides office space for a couple hundred employees from other government agencies. Morris said the agency also is an economic engine in the region, annually paying more than $240 million in compensation and benefits to just its full-time employees, and encouraging the relocation of technical-based and support service companies in the area.
"What computers are to Silicon Valley, biometrics is to this area," Morris said.