U.S. flag

An official website of the United States government, Department of Justice.

Automated Fingerprint Identification Systems - Technology and Policy Issues

NCJ Number
Date Published
April 1987
This report explains Automated Fingerprint Identification Systems (AFIS) technology, the current status of AFIS implementation in the United States, the impact AFIS is having on law enforcement and other criminal justice system components, and policy and legal issues related to the implementation and operation of this new technology.

Under AFIS technology, the new computer equipment scans and digitizes fingerprints, automatically creates a spatial geometry or map of the unique ridge patterns of the prints, and translates this spatial relationship into a binary code for the computer's searching algorithm. Making fine distinctions among thousands or millions of prints, an AFIS computer can compare a new fingerprint with massive collections of file prints in a matter of minutes and make identifications that previously required a time-consuming, error-prone manual process. The AFIS technology will significantly increase the efficiency of the 10-print search and the effectiveness of the latent search, with attendant cost and manpower savings and increased crime-solving potential. The implementation of AFIS systems in law enforcement agencies is progressing rapidly throughout the country, but their high cost has limited their implementation to the Federal level (FBI), State identification bureaus, and large cities and metropolitan areas. Some policy and legal issues related to AFIS are organizational impact, the influence on identification bureau workloads, the fingerprinting of juveniles, and the retention and subsequent use of applicant fingerprints. 15 footnotes.

Date Published: April 1, 1987