SEARCH/BJS National Focus Group Examines Civil Fingerprint Retention Practices

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The expanding use of criminal record checks to determine suitability for jobs, licensing, volunteering and other needs and services has criminal history repositories processing more civil or "applicant" fingerprints than ever.

In many states, civil fingerprints are retained after the record checks are completed and are used for purposes other than those for which the prints were originally submitted. For example, in some states, the agency that initially submitted the civil fingerprint is notified if the fingerprint subject is subsequently arrested for committing a crime. Such notification processes are termed "rap-back" or "hit-notice" programs.

Retained fingerprints may also be matched against fingerprints of unknown individuals collected from crime scenes and other sources (called "latent" fingerprints).

Fingerprints submitted for arrests that occur after the civil prints are collected are also often matched against civil-print databases. Subsequently collected latent fingerprints may also be matched against the same databases.

The growing and varied uses of fingerprints submitted for civil purposes prompted SEARCH Law and Policy staff and the Bureau of Justice Statistics, U.S. Department of Justice, to convene a focus group to examine state and federal civil fingerprint retention procedures and to develop a report that informs policy makers about the merits of retaining civil fingerprints and encourages them to expand retention practices while being mindful of privacy and confidentiality protections when and where appropriate.

The National Focus Group on Civil Fingerprint Retention by Criminal History Record Repositories met November 14-15 in Indianapolis, Indiana. The focus group included representatives from state criminal history repositories, the FBI, the U.S. Department of Justice, the FBI's Criminal Justice Information Services (CJIS) Advisory Policy Board and the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, which conducts about 90 percent of the federal government's background checks and security clearances.

The focus group identified a number of points of concern that policymakers should be aware of when considering future laws and policies governing civil fingerprint retention. Issues included-

  • associated costs
  • standardization of terminology
  • uniform definitions that all states could use to categorize classes of background check subjects
  • retention issues, such as how long prints should be retained and whether print subjects should be able to request removal of their fingerprints from civil print databases once the reasons for collecting the prints no longer exist.

The FBI reported during the meeting on its plans and progress toward establishing rap back services for the states, which should be available in the next three to five years. The focus group attempted to identify and discuss the implications for the states and various state customers when the FBI implements a national rap back service.

The focus group also reviewed a survey of state civil fingerprint retention practices that SEARCH conducted to support the civil print retention project. The survey found a variety of civil fingerprint retention practices among the 44 responding states. Sixteen of the states reported retaining almost all submitted civil fingerprints, while nine responding states retained no civil fingerprints. The other responding states fell somewhere within that spectrum.

Complete survey results are available.

SEARCH is planning to produce a report based on the focus group's deliberations, the print retention survey and related research.

Mr. Daniel M. Foro, Deputy Commissioner for the New York State Division of Criminal Justice Services, served as focus group Chair. Mr. Foro is a member of the SEARCH Board of Directors and is also the New York representative to the SEARCH Membership Group.

Other participating SEARCH Members included Mr. Mike Lesko, Deputy Administrator of the Texas Department of Public Safety's Crime Records Service and a member of the SEARCH Board of Directors; Ms. Dawn Peck, Manager of the Idaho State Police's Bureau of Criminal Identification; and Maj. Douglas E. Shelton, Assistant Division Commander of the Indiana State Police's Records Division.

Participating SEARCH Law and Policy staff included Owen Greenspan, Director of Law and Policy; Eric Johnson, Justice Information Services Specialist; and Kevin Romero, Research Analyst.


Ms. Dawn Peck (left), Manager of the Idaho State Police's Bureau of Criminal Identification and the Idaho representative to the SEARCH Membership Group, makes a point during the civil print retention focus group meeting. Looking on is Ms. Martha Wright, Bureau Chief of Criminal Justice Information Services for the Florida Department of Law Enforcement's User Services Bureau.
 
Mr. Owen Greenspan, Director of Law and Policy for SEARCH (left), and Mr. Daniel M. Foro, Deputy Commissioner for the New York State Division of Criminal Justice Services, listen to speakers. Mr. Foro, a member of the SEARCH Board of Directors and New York's representative to the SEARCH Membership Group, served as Chair of the civil print retention focus group.


Mr. Frank Campbell (center), Deputy Assistant Attorney General for the U.S. Justice Department's Office of Legal Policy, makes a point during the civil print retention focus group meeting. Looking on are Dr. Gerry Ramker (left), Chief of Criminal Justice Data Improvement Programs for the Bureau of Justice Statistics, and Mr. Todd Commodore (right), Supervisory Management Analyst for the FBI's Criminal Justice Information Services Division.
 

Mr. Mike Lesko, Deputy Administrator for the Texas Department of Public Safety's Crime Records Service, delivers a presentation on his state's Fingerprint Applicant Services of Texas (FAST) system, which provides affordable and convenient noncriminal criminal record check services. Mr. Lesko is a member of the SEARCH Board of Directors and is the TExas representative to the SEARCH Membership Group.


Civil fingerprint retention focus group members included (left to right) Mr. William L. Marosy, Program Manager of Records Access and Research Development for the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, and Mr. Kenneth Blue, Law Enforcement Information Manager, Tennessee Bureau of Investigation.