BRANDON- Fingerprints probably haven’t changed much over the years but the technology that collects and stores them sure has.
Long gone are the days when “getting printed” meant rolling fingers through messy ink onto cards and watching as the prints are carefully dried and filed away in a large binder or metal drawer.
Today, childcare facilities, hospitals and law enforcement agencies use biometric mobile applications that work on popular smartphones to scan fingerprints and immediately search massive online databases for the print’s proper identification and any potential criminal records.
“The real identification of a person is found in biometrics,” says Carolyn Rains, president of Automation Designs & Solutions (AD&S).
The Brandon biometrics company specializes in identity management by selling software that captures and sends fingerprints to the state Crime Information Center, a database managed by the Mississippi Department of Public Safety.
Rains’ interest in computers began in the 1980s when she was developing investment modeling software for Lamar Life Insurance for the then revolutionary personal computer. Along with her husband, Rains also worked as a consultant for public schools, healthcare providers and municipalities helping them transform their offices from paper to computer.
“One of the first pieces we developed was for municipal courts,” Rains says. “Back then there was only a paper trail. (Someone) could have had a hundred parking tickets but you wouldn’t have known that.” There was also no state repository for criminal background checks; if local police really needed something they usually turned to the FBI. Mississippi didn’t get its first criminal background system until 1996, according to Rains.
When it came to fingerprints, Rains says she suggested early on that state agencies look at the Internet for encryption and transcription solutions. “I got laughed out of the office from Information Technology Services to the Attorney General’s office,” she says. “It was hilarious to them.”
With the advent of biometrics in the late 1990s and its later infusion into pop culture via successful crime shows like “CSI” and “NCIS,” industries started warming to the potentials of the technology.
“One of the first areas was the childcare facilities,” Rains said. Fingerprints were needed to do criminal background checks on all employees and it was a big inconvenience waiting for results since cards were inked or rolled by hand and mailed off to various agencies
“Before we had to fingerprint them and send the health department the card and let them scan them in,” says Julie Weeks, assistant director the Crossgates Methodist Children’s Center in Brandon. “It was a two to four week process to get the letter back that says they are cleared. It took forever.” Rains sold the facility specially-designed software called FingerPro ID that digitizes fingerprint cards and sends them off more efficiently.
Health care facilities have also taken advantage of AD&S biometrics. “There was a felon working in a major hospital that had a 12-page rap sheet including sexual and aggravation assault,” Rains says. “The health department notified the FBI and the police arrested him.”
Retired Harrison County deputy sheriff Marie Lizana performs background checks on all employees of Gulfport Memorial Hospital using the AD&S-supplied i3 digID Mini live-scanner. The device does a complete ten-point scan of a job applicant’s fingerprints using glass and built-in cameras.
“This is working quite well. We see a lot of people over the year and this little machine we have is doing a great job for us,” Lizana says. “It’s fast, easy, no mess and accurate.”
AD&S provides biometric machines for companies ranging from defense contractors like Northrop Grumman Corp. to a small Atlanta airliner to more than 40 schools districts. In one district, a school cafeteria manager was discovered to have been guilty of embezzlement while in a separate case a cafeteria worker had a murder charge in their file.
The most obvious application for biometrics is of course law enforcement. “In Mississippi, we have so much property crime from car theft to burglary and crime scene investigators can lift the prints and process them in their smartphones,” Rains says.
The latest biometrics project on the horizon for AD&S is a proposed pilot program that would make Fulcrum FbF mobileOne thumb scanners available to law officers across Mississippi. The devices normally retail between $500-600 but would be deployed free of charge by AD&S under a program managed by the FBI and the Mississippi Department of Public Safety.
“Fulcrum is working with us. We will furnish the devices,” Rains says. “The FBI is pushing the program with all the states.”
What is biometrics?
Think of the last James Bond or James Bourne movie you saw. It probably had the clichéd retinal or thumbprint scan scene that’s common in most spy movies. Such scans are referred to in the security industry as biometrics: the use of physical features to authenticate an identity and match it with corresponding data records.
There are five principal biometric systems or modalities that can be verified through scanning — fingerprints, retinal scans, palm scans, voice recognition and facial recognition.
Biometric hardware and software is often used in banks, data centers and public utility and military installations. Revenues for the industry have reportedly doubled in the last five years according to the International Biometrics Group with the largest share going to conventional and automated live-scan fingerprinting.
Kathleen Erickson with San Antonio-based Fulcrum Biometrics says the biometrics distributor recently won a grant to develop a next-generation mobile device that is “hardware agnostic” and will work on Apple iOS, Android and Windows Mobile.
“Our idea was the product could be used where mobile ID is important,” Erickson says. Such low-cost solutions could help law enforcement identity fugitives, replace ticket systems at amusement parks and assist microfinance groups in identifying illiterate people groups around of the world.