Search may be over for fingerprint tool

Law enforcement agencies soon may get a long-sought-after investigation

tool — a national fingerprint search system - thanks to a drive toward standardization.

Television and movies notwithstanding, there is no single workstation able

to scour every fingerprint database in the country. Rather, automated fingerprint

identification systems are manufactured by a handful of companies whose

systems do not interact, according to Tom Hopper, unit chief for advanced

technologies with the FBI's criminal justice information services division.

"In the past you would need a separate system for each one. All of them

are special-purpose and very expensive," he said.

Law enforcement has been trying to establish standards to make the workstations

interoperable for years, eliminating multiple workstations and opening up

databases for faster fingerprint matches.

Hopper has been working with manufacturers toward developing standards,

something the private sector does not readily embrace. Companies may view

standards as a way of losing market share, he said, but the demand by law

enforcement agencies — federal, state and local — has persuaded vendors

to adopt the idea.

Standardization may be coming in the form of PC software developed in part

by Hopper and Ben Moore of the U.S. Secret Service.

The Secret Service has always wanted the ability to do national searches,

he said, but that always required agents to set up a line of workstations

to access various databases.

Until now, the closest thing to a national search capability has been the

FBI's Integrated Automated Fingerprint Identification System, which went

into operation about 14 months ago.

The new software should change that.

"Ben's software is a prototype of what it would be like to encode [a print]

once and search anywhere," Hopper said.

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