FBI & Police Use of Databases{20}

FBI & Police Use of Databases

It is commonly known that the Federal Bureau of Investigations use databases in aiding criminal and terrorist investigations. However, what isn’t known are how these databases actually function and the information that these databases hold, in the sense that Americans have only an idea of how they work. The FBI’s databases are held confidentially and are not viewable to people for obvious security reasons; however, some widely known databases are the NCIC Database, IAFIS Database, and the CODIS Database, along with descriptions of their functions. These databases aid the FBI by improving the efficiency, speed, and availability of information in solving crimes, finding missing people, and fighting against terrorism. FBI databases are related to the course because they use many ERD models which contain entities, relationships, and attributes in organizing the database in order run queries on suspects.

The first and most commonly used database is the National Crime Information Center Database. It is accessible by any law enforcement agency in the U.S and contains information of criminals, missing people, stolen property, fugitives, and any arrest warrants. The NCIC database works by police requesting the dispatch to run a NCIC check or query on a suspect who has been arrested. The dispatch use their own software in querying suspects and is directly connected to the FBI’s NCIC database. The dispatch can query serial numbers, driver license IDs, addresses, etc. in the software and try to find a match in the database. Police gather information from any arrests and add up records to the agency’s database with images and information of more people.

Another database that is widely used is the Integrated Automated Fingerprint Identification System, or the IAFIS database, which contains biometric information such as fingerprints, palm prints, facial recognition, etc. The IAFIS is the largest database in the world, holding biometric and criminal history information of more than 55 million subjects. It also provides automated fingerprint search capabilities, latent search capability, electronic image storage, and electronic exchange of fingerprints and responses. For the IAFIS database to be used by facial recognition a 3D image of someone’s face is captured plotting points. For example, from the eye socket to the lips and to the jaw line are measured with numbers or coordinates. With these measurements, algorithm will be applied to make it into a 2D image in which the FBI can compare in the database for a match or hit. This is done by a mathematical database matching algorithm because no information is known that can be used for a query.

The third database the FBI uses is CODIS, or Combined DNA Index System Database, which are held at the local, state, and national level.  It is composed of the DNA from serious offenders, missing people, and convicted criminals.  The CODIS database works by assimilating a DNA sample such as semen and contains a unique pattern of proteins. This pattern is then converted to an electronic format which goes to the CODIS database. To find a suspect’s DNA, a pattern matching algorithm is run instead of a query. During this algorithm, a hit is displayed when repeated patterns of DNA, matches the DNA sample and an offender sample. For example, if a DNA sample from a scene matches a sample taken from another crime scene, then it would be a forensic hit. If the crime scene sample matches a convicted offender then it results in an offender hit. Thus, using databases can obtains hits to help investigators find valuable information for an investigation.

There are many complaints as to what actually goes inside the FBI databases and how they gather information. While it is reasonable to have information of criminals or terrorists, some people believe that if they haven’t done anything wrong to deserve a record, they shouldn’t have a record. However, there is an argument that says if a person hasn’t done anything wrong, then they should not be worried. Some people could tolerate databases to hold basic information such as name, date of birth, and driver license ID, but to have DNA information, facial patterns, and even fingerprints raises complaints. An example is a case in which an FBI agent covertly gained access to a suspects’ computers in order to install spyware by using a flash drive. In another case, the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) claimed that smartphones data backup feature are giving Wi-Fi passwords to agencies such as the NSA (National Security Agency) and the FBI in order to see what people are actually looking at over the internet. This led to a court ruling between people and the FBI that it violated the first amendment of the U.S. constitution. The court decision was handed down after a classified telecommunications company, represented by the (EFF), contested that national security letter provided by the FBI. These letters explain how FBI to demand customer information from ISPs without court approval. This shows how law enforcement can sometimes abuse their power unlawfully and violate the right to privacy.


Moore, Solomon. “F.B.I. AND STATES VASTLY EXPANDING DATABASES OF DNA.” The New York Times. The New York Times, 18 Apr. 2009. Web. 20 Feb. 2014.

Waxman, Matthew C. “Ohio’s Lessons: State Governments and Facial Recognition.” Council on Foreign Relations. Council on Foreign Relations, 02 Oct. 2013. Web. 20 Feb. 2014.

FBI. FBI, 17 Mar. 2010. Web. 20 Feb. 2014. <http://www.fbi.gov/about-us/cjis/ncic>

“Nothing Is Safe: FBI Reportedly Bulk Collects Entire TorMail Database.” BGR. N.p., n.d. Web. 21 Feb. 2014. <http://bgr.com/2014/01/28/fbi-tormail-database-breach/>