FBI fingerprint system ready

After years of design delays and cost overruns, the FBI on Wednesday will begin using a sophisticated new fingerprint identification system.

The Integrated Automated Fingerprint Identification System (IAFIS) will allow the bureau to search electronically through millions of fingerprints that state, local and federal law enforcement agencies submit when they conduct criminal investigations. Traditionally, running background checks using fingerprints has relied heavily on human analysts, according to FBI officials.

James Jasinski, the FBI's program manager for IAFIS, said the new system should speed up the process of running fingerprint-based background checks to two hours in criminal cases. He said traditional fingerprint background checks can take from eight days to three months - too long for many officials who need background checks conducted quickly so that they can make quick decisions on conducting investigations or setting bail.

In planning since the early 1990s, the system, which now has cost more than $640 million, was substantially revamped in 1996 as the three main vendors, Lockheed Martin Corp., Science Applications

International Corp. and Litton/PRC Inc., struggled to contain costs as they integrated their individual system components.

IAFIS offers law enforcement officials a number of enhancements in addition to higher search speeds. It can locate aliases if the same prints are filed under difference names, and the new system also will search for matches for latent fingerprints - prints collected at crime scenes.

But those searches - in which the FBI may get only one fingerprint or a piece of a fingerprint instead of an entire set of fingerprints - are expected to take longer than two hours to process.

Jasinski said the FBI also will use IAFIS to process fingerprints submitted by "civil sectors" - employers who run background checks on job candidates. He said those prints should be processed within 24 hours of submission. The FBI now charges $24 for such searches.

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