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Establish Electronic Fingerprinting Capability

How to Establish Electronic Fingerprinting Capability under the National Background Check Program


The National Background Check Program (NBCP), as described in Section 6201 of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (Affordable Care Act) requires participating States to submit fingerprints for Federal and State criminal history records (CHR) checks. The Resources page of the NBCP website, Fingerprinting as a Part of the Background Check Process [1] describes the advantages of fingerprint-based background checks over name and date of birth (DOB) checks. States with questions or requests for information about fingerprint-based background checks should coordinate closely with their State Criminal Justice Information Services (CJIS) Division or State Identification Bureau (SIB).

Based on the experiences of existing NBCP States, this guide was developed as a checklist and planning tool that outlines information, steps, and alternatives for starting or upgrading a statewide background screening program to use electronic capture and transmission of fingerprints.


Why electronic fingerprinting?
Steps and Checklists: What does a State agency need to do to use electronic fingerprinting?
Additional Resources

Why electronic fingerprinting?

For States that currently require CHR checks based only on name and DOB, the move to electronic fingerprinting can seem complex, expensive, and of limited benefit. Name-based checks are inexpensive (sometimes free to the applicant); they are simple and can be done from almost any computer with Internet access. In States where fingerprints are required for just a small portion of job applicants, paper “ink and roll” (also called “hard card” fingerprinting) may be in use. NBCP States have found that their statewide programs, often with large numbers of civil applicants to be fingerprinted, are better served with electronic fingerprinting, sometimes known as “live scan,” for the reasons listed below:

A much lower rejection rate for poor image quality. Software in the live scan device verifies the quality of the fingerprints while the applicant is still present at the fingerprinting facility and before the prints can be submitted. States participating in the NBCP that have converted from ink and roll to electronic fingerprints have reported rejection rates falling from as high as 20 percent down to 2 percent. Image quality rejects, especially at the Federal level, require extensive manual processing and are very time-consuming. Many job applicants never return for re-printing.

A much lower rejection rate for textual and numeric data quality. Electronic fingerprinting devices also perform checks to help ensure the completeness, consistency, and accuracy of the identifying information submitted with the fingerprint images, such as DOB, Social Security number (SSN), name spelling, reason fingerprinted, and Originating Agency Identification (ORI) number. This makes coordination at the State level much more efficient. [2]

Higher processing speed. Because the information in electronic records is already digitized, these records typically are processed faster than ink and roll. Results can be available within a few hours after the fingerprints are submitted.

Less effort by State or local law enforcement officials. Due to its efficiency, accuracy, cost-effectiveness, and speed, live scanning is the preferred method for collecting and submitting fingerprints.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) requires electronic fingerprints. Name checks and ink and roll fingerprint cards are not accepted by the FBI to provide criminal histories for civil applicants (with very few exceptions in specific circumstances).

Steps and Checklists: What does a State agency need to do to use electronic fingerprinting?

Numerous activities and decision points are involved in establishing a statewide electronic fingerprinting program. This section describes the steps at a high level, lists various options for implementation, and identifies some pros and cons for each alternative. The high level steps are shown in the process diagram below. A more detailed decision diagram for Steps 1 and 2 is provided at the end of the document [3].

Decision diagram showing the steps necessary for a state to use electronic fingerprinting. A full description follows

Step 1. To define the State-specific requirements and approach that will work best in your State’s environment, there are several activities to consider:

  • Calculate the approximate number of fingerprints to be taken per year and look at the general geographic distribution of applicants throughout your State. The background check estimator [4], found on the NBCP website can assist with estimating the approximate number of fingerprints.
  • Research how fingerprinting is performed in comparable programs:
    1. Contact other agencies within the State and other States that have implemented the NBCP to learn about their experiences in the following areas:
      • Cost
      • Geographic distribution
      • Use of contractual or State resources
      • Legal authorization and legislation
      • Quality and response times
      • Process to receive CHR results from the State CJIS agency
  • Meet with the State CJIS agency, which is the organization that coordinates all fingerprinting for the State (State police, Department of Public Safety, or State law enforcement agency). The following (at a minimum) should be done:
    1. Assess the suitability of live scan devices already deployed in the State that could be used for NBCP applicants (number, location, hours of operation, availability for non–criminal justice use, operation, maintenance, and support).
    2. Discuss the legal authority and ORI requirements.
    3. Provide CJIS with volume, geographic distribution, and proposed implementation timeline.
    4. Determine CJIS capacity to intake, match, process, and perhaps retain the incoming fingerprint volume. Identify at a high level any required upgrades.
    5. Obtain the schedule of fees charged for fingerprinting and for processing and providing results.
    6. Get an estimate of average response times for the State CJIS organization to process fingerprints and provide CHR checks.
    7. Discuss electronic criminal history transmission to the background check agency for eligibility review and determination.
  • Determine the best solution for your State NBCP program in terms of the following:
    1. Fingerprinting locations and environment needed for NBCP fingerprinting.
    2. How and where your agency will provide any additional live scan devices that are needed.
    3. How to meet cost, time, and quality requirements.
    4. Select at least one of the following procurement options. You may use the decision diagram at the end of this document.
      • Option 1: Use existing live scan equipment and personnel in the State.
      • Option 2: Use new live scan equipment at State locations: Contract with a live scan equipment vendor and place equipment in State offices.
      • Option 3: Add to an existing State fingerprint service contract.
      • Option 4: Procure new electronic fingerprinting services: Contract with one or more electronic fingerprint service vendors for electronic fingerprint collection and submission services.
    5. Get details on the legislation needed to require fingerprints and the cycle for approval.
    6. Document the requirements for the State fingerprint retention for future matching (rap back). For more information on rap back, see State Rap Back Implementation on the Resource page of the NBCP website [5].

Step 2. Prepare the regulatory, central processing, and fingerprint collection environments based on the option selected above.

Step 2a: Obtain legislative authority (estimate eight–22 months depending on legislative cycle; add 12 months if initial bill fails). For a new fingerprinting program, this must include at least the following:

  1. New fingerprinting legislation that authorizes or requires fingerprint-based State and FBI checks for all new applicants. This will enable your agency to receive FBI CHR.
    • Coordinate with your State CJIS Agency to obtain language approval – THIS IS REQUIRED.
    • The State CJIS Agency will submit the specific language to FBI’s CJIS Division for review –THIS IS REQUIRED for FBI checks and will take three to four weeks.
  2. Verify the legal requirements to provide the applicant with a disclosure form advising of fingerprint use (both State and FBI requirement) and whether you are required to retain a signed authorization form.
  3. Legislation to require providers to comply with fingerprinting procedures, State and FBI data privacy standards, and State eligibility standards.
  4. For rap back or continuous assessment of eligibility, you may need legislation that authorizes rap back specifically for your program.

Step 2b: Enhance State CJIS Agency technology and infrastructure (if needed). This step has required substantial additional time and technical expertise in several NBCP States. Be sure to determine the scope, schedule, and cost as early as possible, including:

  • Fingerprint acceptance, matching, and routing infrastructure, to include:
    • Store and forward/transaction control numbers
    • State Automated Fingerprint Identification System (AFIS) hardware and matching software (vendor specific)
    • Data interfaces the NBCP background check system (BCS)
  • Criminal history dissemination technology and infrastructure for sending status and response data to the BCS, to include:
    • Format and transmittal of hit, no hit, and reject messages for State and FBI responses
    • Generating, formatting, and transmitting an electronic rap sheet
    • System-to-system data delivery (not email)
    • Consideration of any new requirements to implement fingerprint retention and subsequent notification

States planning to retain fingerprints for rap back or continuous assessment of eligibility will need to adjust the scope, cost, and schedule of Step 2b.

Step 2c: Procure the services and equipment selected in Step 1. See the decision diagram at the end of this document. The primary options are the following:

Option 1:

  • Use existing equipment and personnel to capture live scan fingerprints for NBCP (estimate four to six months to negotiate the required agreements):
  • Pros and cons:
    • Pro: May offer the shortest timeline
    • Pro: Law enforcement has trained fingerprint technicians
    • Pro: Data security and integrity are already in place
    • Con: Law enforcement live scan devices often are not in areas that are intended for public access
    • Con: Availability and appointment times may be restricted due to other priorities, especially for law enforcement personnel

Option 2:

  • Contract (new or modification) to put live scan devices in local agency offices (estimate six to eight months; add three months if a store and forward server is required), or Use of existing State CJIS Agency electronic fingerprinting equipment.
  • Pros and cons:
    • Pro: This approach may be faster to implement than other options.
    • Pro: There is less complexity to the contract, as it is only for equipment and maintenance.
    • Pro: Fingerprinting locations are likely already familiar and accessible to applicants.
    • Con: Support and maintenance for three to five years is needed and must be purchased from the vendor.
    • Con: Operator training and quality control are needed.

Option 3:

  • Add to an existing statewide electronic fingerprinting service contract (estimate six to eight months):
    • Use a contract managed by the State CJIS Agency; or
    • Use a contract managed by another large statewide program in the same cabinet agency, e.g., child care.
  • Pros and cons:
    • Pro: The State CJIS Agency or other agency is responsible for support and maintenance.
    • Con: The State CJIS Agency or other agency maintains control over timelines, locations, quality standards and corrective actions, and priorities.

Option 4. Contract for new electronic fingerprinting services (estimate nine to fifteen months for implementation):

  • Various States have done this with the following variations:
    • A single vendor statewide for all civil programs (done through the State CJIS Agency).
    • A single vendor statewide only for NBCP.
    • Multiple vendors statewide for NBCP.
    • A single “preferred” vendor statewide for NBCP, but allow other vendors if they are approved by the State CJIS agency.
    • A single “FBI-approved channeler.” [6]. This solution does not support rap back.
  • Pros and cons:
    • Pro: The NBCP agency has more control over the timeline, cost, location, and quality measures of the fingerprinting process and equipment.
    • Pro: The results will be available to many citizens over a long period of time.
    • Con: A new contract may require a longer lead time than other approaches.
    • Con: The agency is responsible for all procurement and contract administration tasks.

Step 3: Site readiness needs to include such items as installed and operational equipment, trained staff in place, connectivity to the State CJIS Agency’s AFIS, and updated software and workflows to support the specific NBCP program requirements (see diagram under Steps and Checklists). The equipment vendor and State CJIS Agency will need to support system integration testing.

Step 4: End-to-end testing of fingerprint submissions and responses from State CJIS and FBI can be time-consuming. It should address all data required for NBCP fingerprint processing and all response types including accepted and rejected. The equipment vendor and State CJIS Agency need to support this testing.

Step 5: Pilot testing is often used by States to test processes and technology for electronic fingerprint submission. It can also be used if the Step 2a or Step 2b activities are not completed by the time that electronic fingerprint collection is ready.

Additional Resources

  1. Fingerprinting as a Part of the Background Check Process, NBCP TA Resource Paper. Available at: http://bgcheckinfo.cna.org/resources/state-specific-technical-assistance/fingerprints
  2. Top 10 FBI/IAFIS Rejects Codes. The 10 most common causes of fingerprint card rejections based on August 2006–August 2007 data. Available at: https://www2.fbi.gov/hq/cjisd/iafis/top10reject.htm
  3. Establishing an Electronic Fingerprinting (FP) Program, Decision Diagram for Steps 1 and 2.
    Expanded decision diagram showing for steps 1 and 2, as described earlier
  4. Background Check Estimator, NBCP TA Resource Paper. Available at: http://bgcheckinfo.cna.org/resources/state-specific-technical-assistance/background-checks-estimator
  5. State Rap Back Implementation, NBCP TA Resource Paper. Available at: http://bgcheckinfo.cna.org/resources/state-specific-technical-assistance/state-rap-back-implementation
  6. What is a “Channeler”?, FBI CJIS website’s Frequently Asked Questions page. Available at: https://www.fbi.gov/services/cjis/compact-council/channeler-faqs
  7. FBI Biometric Center of Excellence: FBI Biometric Specifications. This webpage provides information on the FBI’s CJIS’s division initiatives on biometric standards. The center is home to the Integrated Automated Fingerprint Identification System (IAFIS). Available at: https://www.fbibiospecs.cjis.gov/
  8. National Crime Prevention and Privacy Compact Council Identity Verification Program Guide, FBI CJIS website. Provides recommendations on setting up an applicant identity verification program. Available at: https://www.fbi.gov/services/cjis/compact-council/identity-verification-program-guide-booklet