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Exchanging Biometric Data

Why Share Biometric Data?

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Office of Biometric Identity Management (OBIM) employs biometric technologies that enhance data sharing capabilities to help those on the frontline to make accurate and timely decisions to identify people they encounter and determine if they pose a risk to the United States. The information sharing process includes data exchanges between DHS Components and Offices, state, local, tribal, and territorial law enforcement, the intelligence community, and external federal and international partners.

How is Biometric Data Shared Between Organizations?

The DHS Office of Biometric Identity Management (OBIM) maintains the Automated Biometric Identification System, also known as IDENT. To enable biometric and identity management services to OBIM’s customers, OBIM created the IDENT Exchange Message (IXM) Specification as an application profile designed to allow users of IDENT to communicate with the established biometric system. IXM is an Extensible Markup Language (XML)-based message exchange format that provides an easy-to-manage, standards-based interface to the services offered by OBIM. The IXM specification was designed for high volume, rapid transaction processing of biometric and biographic data with authorized users and presents a National Information Exchange Model (NIEM) conformant message exchange model to facilitate proper message exchange.

To help our customers properly develop system-to-system connectivity and enable authorized data exchange between their applications and the IDENT system, OBIM has automated the manual process of validating stakeholder produced messages are conformant with the IXM specification. Through collaboration with the DHS Science and Technology Directorate and SNA International, OBIM has developed an IXM Conformance Tool to assist with  employing an Application Programming Interface(s) (API) that is IXM-conformant and ready to interface with IDENT.

Fully deployed in 2014, the Next Generation Identification (NGI) System is the FBI’s national repository that provides biometric identifications, biometric investigative support, and identity history services for authorized federal, state, local, tribal, and international criminal and noncriminal justice agencies. This is primarily completed by providing identification services for fingerprints and irises; and providing investigative services for latent fingerprints; palm prints; face images; and scars, marks, and tattoo images; as well as identity history services through checks and challenges.

The categories of fingerprints currently maintained in the NGI System include: persons fingerprinted as a result of arrest, incarceration, or other authorized criminal justice purpose; persons fingerprinted for employment, licensing, or other authorized noncriminal justice purpose, such as federal background checks and military service; persons fingerprinted for visa, alien registration, immigration, naturalization, or related purposes; and individuals fingerprinted for authorized national security purposes (including known or suspected terrorists and military detainees).

The NGI System is interoperable with the DHS Automated Biometric Identification System (IDENT) and the DoD Automated Biometric Identification System (ABIS).

The FBI developed the Electronic Biometric Transmission Specification (EBTS), which is a messaging standard that agencies must adhere to when electronically sharing biometric data with the FBI’s NGI system. EBTS describes the customizations needed to integrate biometric data in accordance with the American National Standards Institute /National Institute of Standards and Technology-Information Technology Laboratory 1-2011 standard, which provides guidelines for exchanging biometric information between various domestic and international systems.

The DoD ABIS contains biometric, biographic, and associated encounter metadata information that helps protect U.S. borders by providing biometric identification support to joint, interagency, intelligence, and international partners. The Defense Forensics and Biometrics Agency’s (DFBA) ability to share biometric information collected abroad enables the FBI and DHS to identify hostile actors if they attempt to enter the country.

The DoD also developed its own specified version of the Electronic Biometric Transmission Specification (EBTS) to properly support stakeholders.

DoD Electronic Biometric Transmission Specification (EBTS) describes the customizations needed to integrate biometric data in accordance with the American National Standards Institute /National Institute of Standards and Technology-Information Technology Laboratory 1-2011: Update 2015 standard, which provides guidelines for exchanging biometric information between various domestic and international systems.

OBIM collaborates with international partner governments and law enforcement authorities to increase the use of biometrics for identity screening for a multitude of purposes. Foreign partner data sharing actively promotes the exchange of critical information to enhance public safety and national security. By expanding the global use of biometrics, OBIM is creating strategic opportunities for international cooperation and empowering DHS to achieve its mission of protecting the United States. The Secure Real-Time Platform (SRTP), chosen by DHS as its international information sharing architecture, is a mechanism for data sharing that is scalable to any country. The SRTP pathway is the technology that enables decision makers with augmented data to assist in the adjudication of immigration benefits, enforcement actions, credentialing, and country access permissions. SRTP currently supports business use cases for refugee claimants, entry clearance (visas), foreign criminals, redocumentation, and fugitives. SRTP enables international partners to transmit and receive queries from IDENT via encrypted internet messages through the DHS gateway. The information exchanged through this automated process includes:

  • Biometrics and Unique Person Identifiers
  • Photo(s) and Biographic Information
  • Fingerprint Identification Number
Last Updated: 03/15/2024
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