IDENT (Automated Biometric Identification System)

IDENT (Automated Biometric Identification System)

The Automated Biometric Identification System (IDENT) is a database system using automated fingerprint identification systems (AFIS) technology as part of programs supervised by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security that intend to thwart illegal entry into the United States by criminal aliens.

IDENT was implemented on a trial basis in 1994 and put into wide use by 1998. In August 1998, INS IDENT mangers established standardized policies on the use of IDENT but for financial reasons decided not to include historical data in the IDENT database. Accordingly, IDENT queries were limited to returns of data acquired since IDENT implementation. By 1999, approximately 1.8 million biometrics were keyed into the IDENT "recidivist" (repeat offender) database.

The IDENT system biometrics includes photos and the two index finger fingerprints (entered via a portable Touch View fingerprint reader) of individuals previously apprehended by border and immigration agents. That data is augmented by available data on the individual's criminal history. With this data IDENT provides access to both a recidivist database and a "lookout" database for criminal offenders.

IDENT fingerprint searches of the two databases normally takes only a few minutes. IDENT fingerprint matching is based upon a numerical score derived from degrees of relationship in standard fingerprint characteristics. An IDENT terminal then provides agents with photographs and fingerprint displays of individuals under examination alongside photographs and fingerprints of potential matches. This final visual matching is key because, especially under field conditions, fingerprint analysis is often hampered by dirt on the alien's fingers or the scanner.

Records are ultimately linked to a unique fingerprint identification number (FIN) for each alien. The IDENT fingerprinting technology does not require ink, but uses a machine that scans and digitizes prints before transferring them to a standard ten-print card and storing them in the electronic database.

Use of the IDENT system is critical because studies have shown that apprehended illegal aliens often attempt to falsify their identity by providing a fictitious name and/or a birthdate. As of March 2003, the IDENT database contained records on more than 400,000 aliens who had a history of attempted illegal entry and a criminal history that precluded their entry into the U.S. Prior to DHS reorganization, INS and Border Patrol agents had detained more than 75,000 individuals based on IDENT data.

The IDENT system can also provide basic identification information that allows access to several other security and law enforcement databases including, but not limited to, the Central Index System (CIS), National Automated Immigration Lookout System II (NAILS), Deportable Alien Control System (DACS), National Crime Information Center (NCIC) database, and the Treasury Enforcement Communication System (TECS). Under pending security proposals the IDENT database and system may be fused with the Integrated Automated Fingerprint Identification System (IAFIS) used by the FBI.

As of March 1, 2003, the newly created United States Department of Homeland Security (DHS) absorbed the former Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS). All INS border patrol agents and investigators—along with agents from the U.S. Customs Service and Transportation Security Administration—were placed under the direction of the DHS Directorate of Border and Transportation Security (BTS). Responsibility for U.S. border security and the enforcement of immigration laws was transferred to BTS.

BTS is scheduled to incorporate the United States Customs Service (previously part of the Department of Treasury), and the enforcement division of the Immigration and Naturalization Service (previously part of the Department of Justice). Former INS immigration service functions are scheduled to be placed under the direction of the DHS Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services. Under the reorganization the INS formally ceases to exist on the date the last of its functions are transferred.

Although the technologies involved in the IDENT entry security program remained stable, in an effort to facilitate border security, BTS plans to establish higher levels of coordination between formerly separate agencies and databases. As of April 2003, the specific coordination and future of the IDENT program was uncertain with regard to name changes, program administration, and policy changes.



Department of Homeland Security. April 2, 2003. < > (April 11, 2003).

Department of Homeland Security, Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services. Law Enforcement: The National Border Patrol Strategy. < > (April 12, 2003).


APIS (Advance Passenger Information System)
IBIS (Interagency Border Inspection System)
INSPASS (Immigration and Naturalization Service Passenger Accelerated Service System)
NAILS (National Automated Immigration Lookout System)
PORTPASS (Port Passenger Accelerated Service System)
SENTRI (Secure Electronic Network for Travelers' Rapid Inspection)

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