Many people are surprised to learn that the fingerprints they get done for various immigration and legal purposes actually expire. In the U.S., for example, fingerprints are good for fifteen months after they are issued. People’s surprise usually stems from the fact that fingerprints are generally unchangeable features, just like blood type and eye color.
So why is it that fingerprints expire? And why is it that the authorities are demanding a new set of fingerprints from you for your U.S. entry waiver? The answer does not necessarily concern the fingerprints themselves, but the computer system that handles and stores them. While it’s true that fingerprints can be altered by accidental injury or deliberate tampering, the reason behind their expiry is actually more bureaucratic in nature.
In the early pre-computer days, police officers, immigration employees and security agents collected fingerprints manually using ink and paper. The agent would coat the person’s fingers with ink, and using gentle pressure, they would roll your fingers on a paper card. Once the ink-on-paper print cards dried, they were transferred over to the Federal Bureau of Investigation. There, experts would manually search files for matches against the prints of known criminals, narrowing them down through a series of identification categories that have been in use for more than a century. Once they were done with processing the prints, the FBI would throw out the cards to make room for the newer prints that were coming in.
When computers entered the scene, they replaced the ink and paper storage system. The system was efficient because it allowed the Bureau to save on physical space taken up by filing cabinets, but the computers themselves had no significant storage capacity. The process essentially remained the same. FBI agents were sent the prints digitally, and just as they did before, once the agents completed checking and analyzing the prints, they simply deleted them as opposed to tossing them out.
After September 11, 2001, the security mentality of the U.S. as a whole changed dramatically. The government decided to create a database that would allow for the storage of all digital prints. In 2003, a system that allowed for storage of fingerprints was introduced. The database was designed to allow agents to use images, not words as a standard to retrieve the prints.
Although the new database held a promising future, the method was not as successful in application. The new system was successful in creating a large storage repository – that was the easy part. The main problem was that the system lacked the ability to allow these prints to be easily called back up. The system definitely did not have the technical capability to rapidly search and match prints that were stored in its database.
Thus, the reason you are being recalled for fingerprints is because applications are bottled up in a slow moving and inefficient bureaucracy that is relying on an even more inefficient storage and processing system. Until there is a computer system in place that can efficiently store and retrieve fingerprints, your fingerprints will unfortunately continue to expire every fifteen months in the eyes of U.S. authorities, and you’ll be asked to get them done repeatedly as a result.
Thankfully, today’s digital scanning technology has reduced the time required to complete a criminal record check. With the new system, fingerprints can now be analyzed in around one week, whereas in the past it would have taken several months. If the fingerprints you’ve done have expired, you can simply renew them at one of the National Pardon Centre’s walk-in fingerprinting offices located in Montreal and Toronto. For more information, contact us today. 1-866-242-2411.