Thursday, January 29, 2009

I'm talking to you now - the Electronic Biometric Transmission Specification

On Saturday, January 24, I wrote a post entitled Talk to me - barriers to communication affect everybody. As part of that post, I reproduced some of the jargon that I spout every day:

BCA needs ESB support, and since we know this now, we don't need to CCB it in. We can start with FEC and write the appropriate STRQs and MRs to get us to M-11. Of course, we'll follow P_RGP in the SPP to do all this. And of course BCA will need all the ANSI/NIST and EFTS stuff we do - you know, WSQ and all that. But the ADS handles that with no problem, as does the DES, of course.

Now that was probably cruel of me to spout all that stuff and not explain a word of it. Following Elvis Google's mandate of "Don't be cruel," I'm going to be a little less cruel about it. I'm not going to explain every one of those acronyms, many of which are only meaningful in a particular office building in Orange County, but I'm going to take a few minutes to explain the acronym EFTS, and why you should never use it again.

You see, the EFTS is the Electronic Fingerprint Transmission Specification, which has since been superseded by the EBTS, the Electronic Biometric Transmission Specification. Both of these specifications were written by the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation, and (to simplify things) dictate how the FBI's criminal system will receive and transmit biometric data that is used in solving crimes, and for other purposes.

And there's a definite need to receive and transmit biometric data. You see, the FBI isn't the only police unit in the United States. There are state organizations, county organizations, city organizations, and various other kinds of organizations that are all occupied in taking fingerprints, palmprints, facial images, and other types of biometric data. And all of these organizations, or many of them, take all of this biometric data and store it in a biometric system (the common term used is AFIS, or Automated Fingerprint Identification System, although many of the systems store more than fingerprints).

And guess what? There are multiple manufacturers of AFIS (I work for one of them), and the FBI system (currently called IAFIS, or Integrated AFIS) is manufactured by another company.

Let's say that my home city of Ontario, California gets some fingerprints at a crime scene, searches its AFIS (which includes fingerprints from previously arrested criminals), and can't match the crime scene prints to any person's prints. The regular procedure is that Ontario will then submit the prints to the state of California, so that California can search its AFIS. If California can't match the prints, they'll go on to the FBI's system. Well, those three systems are manufactured by three different vendors, and the FBI needed to set some rules to make sure that the systems can communicate with the FBI system, and send the right data in the right format to the FBI system.

Hence we have the standard now known as the Electronic Biometric Transmission Specification, which is available for your reading pleasure at But this web site doesn't only have the EBTS, but also has a lot of related standards from a lot of related agencies. If you want to know how to format XML for fingerprint transmissions, then this is the place to go.

Oh yeah...XML stands for eXtensible Markup Language. But that's a whole other topic...

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