Fingerprint cards aka FD-258 cards or FBI Applicant Cards are the traditional but still relevant way of capturing fingerprints for civil applications such as employment background checks, immigration, clearance, etc. This manual method of ink-based fingerprint capture has been around for a very long time and despite all the technological progress in digital fingerprinting, it has been able to survive.
Though the FBI or other law enforcement/regulatory agencies may accept your fingerprints on FD-258 fingerprint cards, these cards, however, are not used as they are. These agencies do not look into the fine details of your fingerprints with a magnifying glass any more. Fingerprint cards are first converted into digital format, which can work with their automated fingerprint identification system (such as the FBI’s NGI aka IAFIS).
The CSS (Card Scanning Service) acts as a conduit for agencies that are not yet submitting fingerprints electronically. The CSS makes the conversion of fingerprint information from paper format to electronic format and submits that information to IAFIS.
So when you send your fingerprints to these agencies in digital format (instead of cards), they have to work less and can respond faster.
Agencies such as ATF, which have been largely reliant on the FD-258 fingerprint cards, are also upgrading their systems to accept applicant fingerprints in digital format. A recent upgrade to ATF’s eForm system is proof of this gradual shift towards digitization, in which ATF introduced to ability to upload your fingerprints with a biometric .EFT file format.
What is a biometric .EFT file format?
In short, an EFT file is a digital file that incorporates your fingerprint as well as demographic information to enable electronic transmission as well as interoperability with the FBI’s IT infrastructure for automated fingerprint processing.
Biometric .EFT file format follows the technical specifications developed by the FBI Criminal Justice Information Services (CJIS) Integrated Automated Fingerprint Identification System (IAFIS), which is based on the American National Standards Institute (ANSI)/National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) – Information Technology Laboratory.
These specifications are known as Electronic Fingerprint Transmission Specification (EFTS) and that is where the abbreviation EFT comes from.
EFTS vs. EBTS – differences and similarities
Electronic Biometric Transmission Specification (EBTS) and FBI’s Electronic Fingerprint Transmission Specification (EFTS) are the technical specifications developed for standardized, efficient, and streamlined electronic transmission of biometric data.
The EBTS was originally developed as an interface to the U.S. Department of Defence (DoD) Automated Biometric Identification System (ABIS). The DoD ABIS is an electronic database and an associated set of software applications that support the storage, retrieval, and searching of fingerprint and latent data collected from persons of national security interest.
The DoD ABIS was designed to be similar to the FBI Criminal Justice Information Services (CJIS) Integrated Automated Fingerprint Identification System (IAFIS) and therefore its interface was based on the FBI’s Electronic Fingerprint Transmission Specification (EFTS). Because of the different nature of DoD encounters and detainment circumstances, the DoD has additional operational requirements beyond those defined in the FBI EFTS. The DoD-unique capabilities are defined in the DoD EBTS.
Another system providing external communications for IAFIS is Nlets. The purpose of Nlets is to provide interstate communications to law enforcement, criminal justice, and other agencies involved in the enforcement of laws. Users wishing to interface with IAFIS electronically must comply with the FBI’s Electronic Fingerprint Transmission Specification (EFTS).
.EFT file conversion
While initiating a background check process, there can be instances in which you may have an option to submit fingerprints in biometric .EFT file format. For example, in a recent update to its eFile system, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF) introduced this functionality. Applicants seeking firearm-related approvals could upload a valid .EFT file in order to submit fingerprint for ATF background checks.
Prior to ATF eForm system’s ability to accept fingerprint .EFT file, applicants used to send fingerprints on physical FD-258 fingerprint cards. Sending fingerprints with biometric .EFT file format now not only saves time but has enabled ATF to shorten the approval wait times dramatically.
How to generate a valid .EFT file?
In order to generate a valid .EFT file format that can be used for electronic fingerprint transmission, you will require an FBI certified 10-finger fingerprinting equipment and a live scan fingerprinting software. The live scan fingerprinting software should offer the ability to export fingerprint files to biometric .EFT file format.
Get your live scan fingerprinting system ready
Turn on your live scan fingerprinting equipment as well as the computer it is connected to. The accompanying live scan fingerprinting software should be installed on your computer. The software should also have the functionality to export .EFT file for the scanned fingerprints.
Open the live scan fingerprinting software installed on the computer, which is connected to your live scan fingerprint reader. Complete the login process (if any) on the software and make sure that it recognizes your fingerprint reader.
Start a new fingerprinting task
In most fingerprinting software, you will find an option to start a new scan. It can be an on-screen button or a menu option saying “Start a New Scan”, “New Scan” or simply “New”, depending on your live scan fingerprinting software.
Your live scan software should open a new screen, on which you will need to provide applicant demographic data first.
Enter demographic data
Biometric .EFT file format not only contains fingerprint images but also demographic data of the applicant, so in order to generate a valid .EFT file, you must provide accurate demographic details.
In most fingerprinting software, you will be asked to enter demographic data first, followed by the finger scan.
If you have ever seen an FD-258 fingerprint card, you will find that fields on the demographic data entry screen are exactly as they are on an FD-258 fingerprint card. This is done to make sure that the information captured by an FD-258 fingerprint card and the live scan fingerprint software are similar.
Some live scan fingerprinting software packages also offer the ability to “print on FD-258 card”, which means that you can capture applicant data and fingerprints electronically, and print all the information directly on an FD-258 fingerprint card. This method offers the quality of live scan fingerprinting as well as the ability to send your fingerprint card via snail mail.
Depending on the live scan software chosen, it may provide you the ability to Edit your file if you think there is an error or a fingerprint scan is not up to the mark. Live scan software packages offer several other features and options, but this article is focused on .EFT file conversion, we need to stay focused on the same.
Once you are done with fingerprint capture, there should be an option to save all the work you have done so far. Your demographic data, as well as the fingerprint images, are saved in a file on your computer.
There can be applicants with amputated or injured fingers/thumbs. Live scan fingerprinting software allows you to mark your fingers or thumbs as amputated or unavailable and the system will complete the scanning process without those fingers/thumbs.
A user-friendly and efficient live scan software should guide you throughout the process. The Bayometric’s live scan software offers all these features and functionalities. There is also an inbuilt quality control mechanism. For example, Bayometric’s live scan fingerprint software alerts you for poor quality prints and you can rescan your finger/thumb for better quality. If a particular finger/thumb scan produces poor quality scans despite repeated attempts, it generally means that the user may have skin quality issues.
So you will be performing rolled scans of each finger and thumb from both hands (a total of 10 scans). 4-finger slaps from both the hands (scan of all 4 fingers of each hand, i.e. 2 scans in total) and flat scan of both the thumbs (total 2 scans).
In rolled prints, you need to roll each finger/thumbnail to nail on the fingerprint scanning surface. In case of slaps, all four fingers of each hand need to be scanned in one go. This is also the reason why fingerprinting equipment used in live scan fingerprinting is also called 4-finger scanners as they can scan 4-fingers in one go.
Once you are done with dimorphic data entry, the next step is to capture your fingerprints. Most live scan software products offer a guided, step-by-step process to get you through the fingerprint scan process. There are 2 types of prints that are required – rolled and slaps.
Generating a valid .EFT file from your fingerprint file
This mode of submitting fingerprints to regulatory/law enforcement agencies will save your time with electronic transmission as fingerprint cards sent via snail mail can take much longer to reach your target agency.
Now you have a copy of your digital fingerprints in biometric .EFT file format, which is fully compatible with law enforcement agencies’ fingerprint identification systems (such as the FBI’s NGI). This .EFT file can be electronically transferred to the agencies that allow this route of submitting fingerprints. For example, in ATF eForm 4, you have the option to submit fingerprints by uploading .EFT file and there is no need to send physical fingerprint cards.
In the screenshot above, you can see that there are several fingerprint records. You need to select a record by clicking a row in the list of fingerprint records in order to export .EFT file. When you click, the row gets highlighted, which means it has been selected. Click the Export EFT button and browse the location on your computer you want to save the .EFT file at.
The electronic fingerprinting process that you just completed and saved in a file is now ready to be exported to a biometric .EFT file format, which is as simple as clicking a button or selecting a menu option on your live scan fingerprinting software.
FD-258 to .EFT file conversion process
The process of exporting .EFT file we discussed above was done with a fresh fingerprint scan, i.e. you created a new fingerprinting file by scanning your fingerprints and generating a valid .EFT file. However, there can be scenarios in which you only have a fingerprint card and need to generate an .EFT file.
FD-258 to .EFT file conversion process involves scanning the FD-258 card and converting it into a digital fingerprint record (a fingerprint record file that was obtained by following the process described above). The live scan fingerprint software that offers the ability to scan FD-258 fingerprint cards and convert them to a digital fingerprint file/record should also offer the functionality to export the file to an .EFT file.
Once you scan and convert an FD-258 fingerprint card into a digital fingerprint file/record, the process of converting it to a valid .EFT file is straightforward. The software should have a menu option or screen button to export to .EFT, just the way we discussed above in case of a fresh fingerprint scan.
A valid biometric .EFT file format follows biometric data transfer specifications prescribed by the FBI and offers interoperability with their systems. When you submit fingerprints with an FD-258 fingerprint card, your card is first converted to a digital file then the agency start processing it, which results in additional steps in processing your application.
Submitting fingerprints electronically with an .EFT file is not only convenient but also saves a lot of time, which is otherwise consumed in the FD-258 card to digital fingerprint conversion process. It also saves time that is wasted when you choose to submit your fingerprints by sending a physical FD-258 fingerprint card via snail mail. By submitting fingerprints with a valid .EFT file, you can not only avoid fingerprinting errors but also expect dramatically shorter wait times in processing your application.