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Detroit Legal Blog

Automated Fingerprint Identification System (AFIS)

Jul 13, 2015, by Maurice Davis in Constitutional Law, Criminal Defense, Legal Blog, Privacy

AFIS may sound like simply a database for fingerprints collected by law enforcement, but it’s actually a lot more and has proven to be an effective tool of law enforcement in addition to being useful for identification and fraud prevention purposes. The AFIS is also used in background checks for employment opportunities and admission to some professional associations.

The AFIS is “a biometric identification methodology that uses digital imaging technology to obtain, store, and analyze Fingerprint data.” When someone is arrested, today they are typically finger printed using a Live Scan machine. This scanner takes prints and immediately digitizes and stores the information. It eliminates the need for ink printing which can be messy, ineffective, and difficult to catalogue or search. Live Scan printing is done at law enforcement agencies around the country.

After someone’s prints have been scanned, they are run against a database of over five million other prints from around the country. The AFIS then returns finger prints that are close enough to be a potential match and a trained technician compares them from there. This lets arresting officers determine if the person in custody has any previous arrests, active warrants, or a discrepancy in their given identify.

The AFIS also stores and catalogs latent prints of unknown individuals left at crime scenes. Technicians find and lift these prints from surfaces and plot the distinct characteristics of each unique print. They are then digitized and submitted into the AFIS database which may come up with a match of some identified person whose prints are already in the system.

Additionally, when law enforcement runs the prints of a known person in or out of custody, they will be able to see if any similar prints have been left at any unsolved crimes.

The FBI keeps a national database of biometric data, previously the Integrated Automated Fingerprint Identification System and now the Next Generation Identification. This national database houses a variety of biometric data including finger prints, latent prints, pictures and descriptions of identifying marks, scars, and tattoos, and iris recognition.

It also includes special designations and alerts for certain types of offenders and criminal activity. This database is available nationwide to all law enforcement agencies and officially replaced its predecessor in 2014.

If you’ve been charged with a crime or have concerns about how the AFIS may impact you, contact a Michigan criminal lawyers at (313) 818-3238. Your lawyer will work to protect your rights and your privacy as you navigate the criminal justice system.