The National Crime Information Center (NCIC) manages a vast system of data storage and retrieval containing the personal information and criminal histories of millions of people throughout the United States and its territories. Law enforcement officials at federal, state and local levels may access the NCIC system for lawful investigative and intelligence purposes.
Given the vast quantities of confidential and personal data contained in its systems, NCIC requires those who access its information to undergo specialized training. To establish the necessary training and credentials among personnel authorized to access and operate the system, administrators and participating law enforcement agencies with access to the system have developed NCIC training and certification procedures.
Training for NCIC Access
The NCIC database contains a wide variety of information crucial for law enforcement and criminal justice officials. That information includes criminal record history data, names and personal data of fugitives, and sensitive information regarding stolen properties and missing persons. The database and its information is available around the clock and every day of the year through computerized access.
Pursuant to federal law and regulations, NCIC records and data are protected from unauthorized access and use through a combination of technological and physical safeguards, such as locks, passwords, encryption and more. In addition, because NCIC information tends to be both exceptionally sensitive and integral to law enforcement and national security operations, access and operation of the system is restricted to personnel who have a bona fide “need to know” – that is, a provable need to obtain access to the information in order to carry out their law enforcement or intelligence-related job duties.
NCIC certification serves to ensure that personnel using its systems understand the laws and regulations surrounding use of its data, when and how that data may be shared or utilized, and how to operate the system without compromising confidentiality.
NCIC System Access Levels
Access is not granted to every law enforcement officer, or even to every officer engaged directly in criminal investigations. Instead, only those positions that actually require access and immediate viewing of the data are granted access, and only after such officials have undergone the requisite training courses and received certification.
Additionally, access to the various functions and types of information contained in the NCIC system is restricted to specific levels of security and need to know. This is determined by reviewing the certified and authorized person's job description and specific requirements for accessing the system. Dispatchers are allowed access to one level, while special agents are allowed to an entirely different level of data and functionality.
Consequences of Accessing the System Without Certification
Accessing the system's equipment or data without a current NCIC certification and authorization is a serious federal crime, one which the FBI will prosecute no matter how inconsequential the access or use may be. Divulging information or allowing system access by an unauthorized person is a felony under federal law. Part of the certification process includes signing a statement of understanding regarding the criminal consequences of security breaches.
Process of Obtaining Certification
The NCIC certification course is usually a one-day, eight-hour course of instruction. The content of the course seeks to familiarize the student with the system's functions and how to operate the dedicated NCIC terminals, and includes information on applicable legal restrictions on accessing and divulging information.
The course is followed by a written examination that requires a specified minimum score to pass. Part of the test includes a practical performance examination. The course and exam are administered only to those personnel who have been identified and authorized by their respective law enforcement and intelligence department heads to have access to the system. Once NCIC certification has been obtained, users must get re-certified on a regular basis in order to be granted continued access.