Whenever law enforcement agencies such as the FBI, need to run a background check, they prefer fingerprints over anything else. Most well-equipped law enforcement agencies around the world understand that when it comes to background checks, running a fingerprint-based criminal history background check would be their best bet for accurate results.
Law enforcement agencies trust in a fingerprint-based criminal history background check that is not unfounded. Criminal history background checks performed with fingerprints result in superior accuracy and lesser false positives when compared with name-based (i.e. demographics-based) background checks.
What are background checks and why do you need them?
Background checks or criminal history background checks are performed in order to ascertain if you have been involved in any unlawful activity that resulted in an arrest or prosecution. Background checks are done to fetch these past records and evaluate their severity. For example, criminal history background checks are conducted when you apply for a federal job or employment in a regulated industry (such as banks, financial institutions, healthcare, childcare, etc.).
Criminal history background checks are also conducted when you need a security clearance to enter a high-security facility (such as a military installation). It may also be conducted when you apply for a license to start a business or institution (such as a securities broking business, childcare, etc.).
In a nutshell, government agencies have some rules to allow you access to certain facilities, people, or resources, so that they can protect them from potential harm by an individual with a criminal background. That is why they ask us to go through background checks in order to fetch your fingerprint-based federal criminal history. This criminal history is evaluated to determine your suitability for employment, license, immigration, or the clearance you have applied for.
How fingerprint-based background checks are performed?
The process of conducting fingerprint-based FBI criminal history background checks usually starts with a request for a background check/fingerprinting. The agency you have been dealing with for a job, clearance, or licensing, will ask you to submit your fingerprints for the purpose of fetching your fingerprint-based federal criminal history. They will provide a form, known as the Live Scan Request Form, which will include your personal details along with an ORI number.
An ORI (Originating Agency Identification) number is an important piece of information that is used to identify the agency where the request for the live scan service originated from. It is a unique number provided by the agency requesting fingerprinting. If you are submitting fingerprints using an FD-258 fingerprint card, it may have pre-printed ORI if you received it from the requesting agency.
All other demographic information needs to be filled accurately and the Live Scan Service Request Form needs to be presented at the live scan fingerprinting service provider’s office. Your agency will provide you with information about the live scan service provider where you need to get yourself fingerprinted if they have a special arrangement with a fingerprinting agency.
You will most probably need to make an appointment in order to get fingerprinted as many live scan service providers do not entertain walk-in appointments. Some of the live scan service providers such as IdentoGo by IDEMIA also offer web-based appointment scheduling, in which you can go to their website, get registered, and make an appointment without calling them.
Capturing fingerprints and demographic details
On the day of fingerprinting, you will need to show up at the fingerprinting location as per your appointment schedule. Generally, fingerprinting agencies require at least 2 forms of ID along with your Live Scan Service Request Form. The live scan operator checks your IDs, fill in your demographic details with the help of live scan software, and captures fingerprints. Both rolled and flat fingerprints are captured for performing fingerprint-based federal criminal history background checks.
Criminal background checks at the FBI
By electronic transmission or via a fingerprint card posted with snail mail, your fingerprints finally reach the FBI. If you have made an electronic submission, fingerprint images are queued up to be processed and matched against the FBI’s criminal databases. In case you have made fingerprint submissions using an FD-258 fingerprint card, they are first converted into digital images in order to make them interoperable with the FBI’s systems.
FBI’s fingerprint processing is fully automated. Gone are the days they used to do a manual analysis of fingerprints at the FBI. Even if they have to analyze fingerprints manually, it is done using their system.
Your fingerprints are fed into the FBI’s automated biometric recognition system called NGI – Next Generation Identification, as a search query. The NGI system looks up the criminal records maintained by the FBI. If a match is found, the records are fetched and sent back to the requesting agency. If no match is found the same is also informed back to the requesting agency.
Why are fingerprint-based FBI criminal history background checks are so accurate?
Now you could offer an argument – what makes fingerprint-based FBI criminal history background checks superior? Why can’t they simply search using details like name, date of birth, social security number, etc.?
Demographic information can be manipulated but fingerprints can’t be
Can you change your date of birth or name? Let’s take the date of birth for an instance. Your date of birth – the day you were born, cannot be changed. But it can be manipulated easily – such as in forged documents. Similarly, other information such as your address, social security number, and everything can be faked as they are just a piece of information that is generally shown on some documents.
Fingerprints, on the other hand, are patterns that are found naturally at the tip of your fingers. The history of human identification with fingerprints is more than a century old and there is no recorded history, in which two fingers were found to have similar fingerprint patterns. Each fingerprint is unique and they are never found to repeat – even in the fingers of the same person or twins.
What makes fingerprints so unique? The characteristic of uniqueness in fingerprints comes naturally due to the complexity and the possible number of variations they may have. Friction ridges start to form even before your birth and given the endless possibilities of variations they may have, they are always formed differently for each person and each finger and never found to repeat.
Fingerprints are forever
Fingerprints never change in a person’s lifetime. The fingerprint patterns that you are born with, stay the same for life. They may deteriorate due to some factors such as age, skin disease, and injury, but never change. This characteristic of “permanence” makes fingerprints an ideal candidate for establishing identity and verifying it later when required.
Fingerprint biometrics – sophisticated, tech-powered science
During the last few decades, biometrics has grown in leaps and bounds in terms of technological advancement as well as market share. A couple of decades ago, nobody could have imagined that fingerprint sensors on mobile phones would be a reality. Technological advancement in biometrics is also fuelled by the exponential growth in information and communication technology that we have witnessed since the start of the 21st century.
Fingerprints are hard to impersonate
Fingerprints are extremely hard to impersonate, especially when you are going to submit them for criminal history background checks. You may forge IDs and hide your identity, but fingerprints will reveal your identity if it has been established by law enforcement agencies in any previous encounter with them (such as during a criminal booking). Since fingerprints are extremely hard to manipulate, a candidate cannot impersonate someone else’s identity.
There have been scientific demonstrations in which experts have shown that fingerprints are not invincible and they can be hacked with sophisticated techniques. However, with modern biometric systems with advanced anti-spoofing techniques, it becomes even harder to circumvent these systems even with sophisticated techniques.
FBI’s NGI is a state-of-art system
Due to the credibility that fingerprint-based identification involves, the FBI has invested heavily in developing the NGI – the Next Generation Identification system. It took efforts of several decades to develop NGI. FBI started putting significant efforts and manpower into developing an automated system for fingerprint recognition in the 1960s. FBI’s large-scale computerized fingerprint identification system IAFIS became operational 1999.
With IAFIS, it became possible for the FBI to search and collected fingerprints on any system. It also made the integration of different systems possible. IAFIS was able to accept electronic submissions of fingerprint services (e.g. for criminal history, background check, etc.) with IAFIS. FBI kept developing IAFIS to accept to increase its efficiency and include more biometric modalities.
The FBI deployed the first increment of the NGI System in February 2011, when the AFIT replaced the legacy Automated Fingerprint Identification System (AFIS) segment of the IAFIS. NGI can also perform facial recognition searches and enroll subjects’ iris patterns, which can be linked to their fingerprint patterns as well.
Inclusion of advanced technologies in fingerprint background checks
Today, live scan is a popular way of capturing fingerprints as well as demographic data for the purpose of fingerprint-based criminal history background checks. In the live scan fingerprinting process, applicant fingerprints are captured electronically without any ink or paper. These digital fingerprint images are then transferred to the FBI for looking up in the criminal database of fingerprints.
Technological advancements have further improved live scan processing, making fingerprint-based criminal history background checks even easier and more efficient.
With the integration of different APIs, background check software makes it possible to quickly fill in the required data. It is even possible to put necessary compliance validation checks in place with the help of artificial intelligence. Background check software makes it possible to track the progress of individual background check requests placed by you.
In name-based checks, criminal history or the applicant’s background is checked with the help of demographic details such as name, date of birth, social security number, etc. Fingerprint-based federal criminal history checks are definitely more accurate as fingerprint-linked criminal history records do not suffer from problems such as duplicate records and false positives, which may be common in name-based checks.
Fingerprint-based federal criminal history investigation has become a standard for background checks during hiring, immigration, licensure, etc. The reason is pretty straightforward – fingerprint-based FBI criminal history background checks not only offer the highest level of accuracy but also help avoid issues found in name-based checks.
Name-based checks have their own advantages. They produce results faster when compared with the turn-around time offered by fingerprint-based checks. We have already covered the comparison of fingerprint-based background checks vs. name-based checks in great detail in a previous article.