Utah, feds capitalize on modern fingerprint technology

Assistant Special Agent Jonathan Lines wrote that while limited, the importance of embracing technology is critical. In his agency’s case, that technology involved sharing fingerprint data. He also noted the consequences of failing to integrate systems and failure to blend technology with human experience when it came to using fingerprint data to detect criminals.
His paper, titled “Deadly Consequences in Delaying IAFIS (Automated Biometric Information System) and IDENT (Integrated Automatic Fingerprint Identification System Integration)” traced the efforts of the Federal Bureau of Investigation and what was known as the Immigration Naturalization Service (INS; the agency has since been absorbed into the Department of Homeland Security and has been renamed Immigration and Customs Enforcement) in blending their automated fingerprint identification systems, an effort that dates back almost 20 years. Lines is the Assistant Special Agent in Charge in Utah with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). His work has had a noticeable impact in the state.

1) Lines’ course paper traces the history of fingerprint use, the value to fingerprints in identification as well as the legal basis for using fingerprints. He goes on to analyze a 1989 effort by INS to implement an automated biometric system and the FBI’s move towards modernizing its fingerprinting program.
INS’ plan led to the development of the Automated Biometric Information System (IDENT) while the FBI developed its own system, the Integrated Automatic Fingerprint Identification System (IAFIS). Because those systems had different requirements in the fingerprinting process, however, the two systems were not blended until tragedy struck.
Lines uses a couple of cases as examples to show why an updated system was needed. One of those cases was the tale of an illegal immigrant who, despite several encounters with the legal system, was able to slip in and out of the country undetected while committing a string of murders in Texas in 1999. Subsequent efforts to integrate the INS and FBI systems were accelerated in response to that case, with additional resources added for integration efforts in the aftermath of the Sept. 11 attacks. ICE eventually integrated use of IAFIS and IDENT and has trained its personnel on it use. Its nationwide deployment is now an agency priority.

2)  Lines’ research reinforced his belief that federal agencies and local law enforcement needed to partner to share information and use technology to better identify illegal immigrants who posed a current or future criminal threat. Transnational threats to our nation’s communities are becoming more commonplace and the need for such technology to identify these threats is a must for local, state and federal agencies alike.

3) Lines said local and state police agencies are becoming ever-more interested in enhancing their abilities to identify foreign nationals. In March 2010, three Utah counties became the first jurisdictions in the state to benefit from an initiative called “Secure Communities”.  Spearheaded by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), the modernized process was used to accurately identify criminal aliens arrested in the community.
In its first full week in operation, the Secure Communities program in Salt Lake County is credited with detecting more than 30 aliens in local custody who had been charged with or convicted of crimes. Of those, four were foreign nationals whose criminal records included arrests or convictions for the most serious types of crimes, Level 1 offenses, including forcible sexual abuse, sexual assault of a minor and aggravated assault. Without this technology many of these illegal aliens would have been released back into the community as the reason for their initial detention may not have warranted ICE attention. The Secure Communities initiative is expected to be deployed to three additional Utah jurisdictions – Cache, Weber and Box Elder counties – in the spring of 2010.  Across the country, Secure Communities is now being used by 135 jurisdictions in 17 states. ICE expects Secure Communities to have a presence in every state, with nationwide coverage anticipated by 2013.
The cornerstone of Secure Communities is the activation of new information-sharing capabilities developed by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the Department of Justice (DOJ) that automatically alert local law enforcement and ICE when potentially deportable criminal aliens come into local custody. Prior to the activation of the Secure Communities information-sharing capability, local arrestees’ fingerprints were taken and checked for criminal history information against the DOJ biometric system maintained by the FBI; there was no interfacing with DHS indices. Under the Secure Communities strategy, that fingerprint information is now simultaneously checked against the biometrics-based immigration records maintained by DHS. If an alien has ever been encountered by ICE at a port of entry or anywhere else in the nation, the arresting agency receives an immediate response, and ICE is alerted. Prior to the use of this technology, law enforcement officials contacted ICE based on a detainee’s claim to foreign nationality. Many of these criminal aliens would claim to be U.S. citizens; therefore ICE was never notified of the person’s arrest. Now, regardless of what the apprehended suspect tells the original arresting agency, if the subject’s fingerprints match those in the DHS’s biometric system, an automated process notifies ICE. The agency detaining the suspect can then take appropriate action to ensure criminal aliens are not released back into communities. Top priority is given to individuals who pose the greatest threat to public safety, such as those with prior convictions for major drug offenses, murder, rape, robbery, and kidnapping. 
“This collaborative use of technology truly helps secure our communities,” Lines said.


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