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The ability of fingerprint databases in different jurisdictions to share data with each other — interoperability of the databases — can be influenced by both technology and policy. Through secure network connections, the automated fingerprint identification system (AFIS) in Jurisdiction A can be networked to the AFIS in Jurisdiction B so that either jurisdiction can search the fingerprints in the other. The two jurisdictions typically must have an AFIS manufactured by the same vendor or have a way for two different systems to communicate. The two agencies typically also must have some official agreement, such as a memorandum of understanding that defines the terms of the information sharing; otherwise the searching will be done on an ad hoc basis.
The total national infrastructure of AFIS maintained by federal, state, local and tribal agencies can be thought of as the national criminal justice AFIS enterprise, and how the systems communicate with each other will depend on the network architecture and access controls.
Fingerprint searches can be done in either a vertical (e.g., local to state, state to federal) or a horizontal (e.g., local to local, state to state) manner. As a result, interoperability can be considered at different levels of geographic or jurisdictional granularity: local, regional intrastate, state, regional interstate and national. The extent to which an authorized AFIS user such as a criminal investigator can launch a latent fingerprint search from his or her computer in the national criminal justice AFIS enterprise and search for a fingerprint match in databases maintained in other jurisdictions can be thought of as the level of interoperability.