December 1, 2011

A Year of Records for CJIS

Part 1: FBI’s Largest Division Provides Information to Protect the Nation

Exterior of CJIS Facility in West Virginia

The FBI’s Criminal Justice Information Services Division, or CJIS, is located in West Virginia.

The FBI’s Criminal Justice Information Services Division—better known as CJIS—provides critical information to help our partners fight crime and protect the nation. Whether it’s answering a patrolman’s request for a subject’s criminal record during a traffic stop, verifying that a potential gun buyer is not a felon, or ensuring that a local municipality is not hiring a teacher who is a registered sex offender, CJIS receives millions of electronic requests every day for criminal information records and returns responses with amazing speed and accuracy.

David Cuthbertson, then the assistant director of the Criminal Justice Information Services Division.Right: (David Cuthbertson, assistant director of CJIS) recently spoke with Special Agent David Cuthbertson, the newly appointed assistant director of CJIS, about the division’s accomplishments in 2011 and what to expect from the FBI’s largest division in the future.

Q: CJIS has been described as a lifeline to law enforcement. What are some of the division’s main programs?

Cuthbertson: The term “lifeline” aptly describes what we do day in and day out at CJIS. Our main programs include NCIC—the National Crime Information Center—and the Interstate Identification Index, which is the nation’s criminal history repository. NCIC is searched by law enforcement nearly 8 million times every day. And those requests—related to stolen property and information on wanted, missing, and unidentified persons—are returned to officers on the street within fractions of a second. NICS—the National Instant Criminal Background Check System—helps keep guns out of felons’ hands. In the last fiscal year, NICS conducted more than 15.9 million background checks in accordance with federal law, and more than 76,000 gun transfers were denied based on buyers’ criminal records. Our Law Enforcement National Data Exchange—N-DEx—provides a secure, online national information-sharing system for records related to bookings, arrests, probation, and parole report data. More than 4,100 agencies contribute to N-DEx, and the system has more than 124 million searchable records. And, of course, CJIS maintains the largest collection of fingerprint records in the world. During the last fiscal year, the Integrated Automated Fingerprint Identification System—IAFIS—identified more than 307,000 fugitives. These programs are only part of the important work we do at CJIS. Our recently released annual report highlights other programs and many of our record-setting accomplishments.

The FBIas Criminal Justice Information Services Divisionabetter known as CJISaprovides critical information to help our partners fight crime and protect the nation. Q: Does CJIS share information with partners outside of law enforcement?

Cuthbertson: Absolutely. We provide information to the U.S. intelligence community for national security matters, and our data is also relied upon for civil uses such as criminal checks for employment and licensing. Teachers and school bus drivers, for example, are subject to background checks as required by state law, and CJIS systems provide that information to authorized users. Right: (CJIS Annual Report 2011)

Q: Given the vast number of records in CJIS databases, how do you safeguard Americans’ privacy and civil liberties?

Cuthbertson: We balance civil liberties with everything we do. It’s important to remember that we only retain information related to a person’s criminal history based on lawful contacts with law enforcement. We don’t retain files on employment checks, for instance. By law, even gun background checks that come to us through NICS are destroyed every night—unless the purchase was lawfully denied. There are many similar protections in place to protect the privacy of American citizens.