John Dillinger, Bonnie and Clyde escape the shredder as FBI finishes vast digital fingerprint/ID project

FBI close to completing digitization project for its Next Generation Identification system

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The FBI said today it was getting close to completing a massive project that saw the agency convert more than 30 million records and 83 million fingerprint cards to the digital Next Generation Identification system it will use in the future.

 According to an FBI release, the conversion from manual to digital systems began more than two decades ago, when paper files outgrew the space at FBI Headquarters in Washington, D.C. They were shipped to West Virginia, where the FBI built a campus in Clarksburg in 1992 for its Criminal Justice Information Services (CJIS) Division and leased warehouse space in nearby Fairmont for the burgeoning files.

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In 2010, CJIS broke ground on a new Biometric Technology Center and redoubled its efforts to digitize all the files. In the past two years alone the agency said it has digitized 8.8 million files.

After scanning and digitization, the paper files are destroyed, though original versions of historic files—fingerprint cards for John Dillinger, Bonnie Parker, and Clyde Barrow, to name a few—have been saved from the shredder, the FBI said.

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The FBI is close to fully activating the Next Generation Identification (NGI) system, a state-of-the-art digital platform of biometric and other types of identity information. The system, which is incrementally replacing the Bureau’s Integrated Automated Fingerprint Identification System, will better serve the agency’s most prolific customers—law enforcement agencies checking criminal histories and fingerprints, veterans, government employees, and the organization’s own Laboratory, the FBI said.

 Some interesting facts:

  • The FBI’s role as steward of one of the world’s largest collection of identity files dates back to the 1920s, when the Bureau received 800,000 files from the U.S. Army.
  • As many as 300 staffers worked shifts around the clock—searching, filing, retrieving, and annotating fingerprint cards, criminal histories, and civil identity files at FBI Headquarters and then in West Virginia.
  • The files that comprised the bulk of the digital conversion fell within three extensive categories: criminal history files dating back to the early 1970s and before; civil identity files of people born prior to 1960 who enlisted in the military or applied for a government job; and fingerprint index cards.
  • More than 1,000 file cabinets that weighed 230 pounds were or will be recycled.
  • Files are maintained until individuals are 110 years old or dead.
  • NGI is scheduled to be fully operational in September. The digital conversion effort is also expected to be completed next month.

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