Fingerprints carry a person’s essential information, including date of birth, name, address and criminal record. The U.S. government uses fingerprinting to identify biometrics including citizenship, arrests and military service. While fingerprinting is now a powerful method to analyze civilian data, it started as a small-scale initiative.

In 1902, the New York Civil Service Commission, led by Dr. Henry P. DeForrest, began fingerprinting job applicants to prevent plagiarizing on pre-employment tests. Its promising results prompted the New York State Prison to implement fingerprinting in 1903 for the collection of inmate information.

Slowly, fingerprinting began sweeping the nation as a way to collect and analyze biometrics. Responding to a growing need for fingerprint tests from America’s prisons and employers, Congress established the Identification Division of the Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) in 1921, to collect and analyze fingerprints for employment and criminal records.

Today, fingerprinting plays a major role in employment and criminal background checks, conducted by third-party DNA testing services and the FBI. In 1981, the FBI deployed the first Automatic Fingerprint Identification Systems (AIFS) to electronically manage a growing number of fingerprinting requests. Eventually, the FBI developed the Next Generation Identification (NGI) database, a more robust analyzation platform to replace the AIFS.

The NGI database is currently pioneering advanced measures of biometry, including a national Rap Back service, the Interstate Photo System, fingerprint verification services and more complete and accurate identity records. It collects and analyzes fingerprinting requests from over 18,000 local, state, tribal, federal and international partners. To improve its effectiveness, the FBI announced a Privacy Impact Assessment (PIA) in 2015, requiring all non-criminal fingerprints to be stored and examined alongside criminal fingerprints. By conjointly examining civil and criminal fingerprints, the FBI can provide more comprehensive information about a person and more easily locate it.

Each state has its own regulations regarding fingerprint background checks. Many states require fingerprint background checks for Level 2 background checks, which are required for people working with children, the disabled and the elderly. To read more about fingerprinting and Level 2 background checks, click here.