Follow-up Review of the Status of IDENT/IAFIS Integration

E & I Report No. I-2005-001
December 2004

Conclusion and Recommendations

Although significant positive steps have been taken to expedite the deployment of the initial integrated version of IDENT/IAFIS, progress toward the longer term goal of making biometric fingerprint systems fully interoperable has stalled. Under the current process, the FBI extracts certain data from IAFIS and provides it to the DHS for insertion into IDENT. The result is an unnecessary duplication of data, and the use of some erroneous, untimely, and incomplete data by the DHS in lieu of direct queries of the most current and complete information contained in IAFIS. Further, because only a small percentage of aliens at ports of entry are being searched against IAFIS, the likelihood of missing a criminal alien or terrorist is increased.

The FBI and other law enforcement agencies (federal, state, and local) have no access to the DHS’s IDENT and US-VISIT immigration records, particularly the alerts in the apprehensions file, which are not in the IAFIS database. Among other things, these alerts flag the records of aliens who did not meet the criteria for inclusion in the lookout database but nevertheless who should be closely scrutinized or detained if apprehended. If the FBI is unable to directly access the information in IDENT and US-VISIT, it will be less able to identify aliens arrested in the United States who have violated their immigration status, tell employers the status of an applicant for a sensitive position, and coordinate with the DOS to ensure that law enforcement can identify persons of interest when they apply for a visa.

Critical differences continue to exist between federal agencies over the fundamental method of capturing fingerprint information. The NIST- recommended Technology Standard calls for using ten flat fingerprints to implement a long-term interoperable biometric fingerprint system. However, the DHS and the DOS have neither agreed to implement the uniform fingerprint Technology Standard recommended by the NIST nor agreed how to develop a fully interoperable system that provides law enforcement agencies with "readily and easily accessible" access to IDENT and US-VISIT immigration records as required by Congress in both the Patriot and Border Security Acts. Because these capabilities have not been developed, over 99 percent of the visitors seeking admission to the United States will only be checked against the US-VISIT watch list. Because that watch list relies on a limited number of records extracted from the IAFIS Criminal Master File, the checks will not be as complete as those made directly against the full 47-million record IAFIS Criminal Master File. As the Department’s Metrics Study showed, when only extracts are checked, many criminal aliens – including many who committed violent crimes that threaten public safety – are not identified and may be unknowingly admitted to the United States.

For the Department to effectively proceed with planning to make IAFIS interoperable with the biometric fingerprint systems of the DHS and the DOS, high-level policy decisions must be made regarding who should be subjected to fingerprint searches, the fingerprint collection standard to be used, the databases to be queried, who will have access to the information, how the information will be used, and who will maintain the databases. We recommend that the Department seek to have the federal government address those decisions in a timely and coordinated manner. We therefore recommend that the Department:

  1. Within 90 days of the enactment of the Department’s FY 2005 appropriations act, report to the Homeland Security Council and Congress that the Department, the DHS, and the DOS have reached an impasse and cannot complete the MOU directed by Congress. The report should formally request that the Homeland Security Council or Congress decide on the adoption of the NIST Technology Standard and define the capabilities to be provided in the interoperable system;

  2. Increase the transmission of the fingerprints of Known or Suspected Terrorists from the FBI to the DHS from monthly to at least weekly;

  3. Request access to a random sample of data from US-VISIT and other relevant immigration biometric databases used for enforcement or benefit purposes for comparison to IAFIS in order to determine the risk posed by not checking all visitors against IAFIS;

  4. Coordinate with the DHS to identify the capacity needed to conduct IAFIS searches on all visitors referred to secondary inspection and inform the Department’s CIO how the capacity of IAFIS (now planned to be 20,000 searches by October 1, 2005) could be increased to handle that level of activity;

  5. Develop options for the eventual upgrade of IAFIS to enable the system to conduct ten flat fingerprint searches on all US-VISIT enrollees and TPRS submissions from the Border Patrol and from the ports of entry; and

  6. Take steps to ensure that IAFIS meets its availability requirement of 99 percent.