The National Crime Information Center (NCIC) manages a vast system of data storage and retrieval that is among the most secure in the world. It contains the personal information and criminal histories of millions of people throughout the United States and its territories. To access and operate the system, personnel must be trained and certified to do so.
Because NCIC information is 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 and whose jobs, usually in law enforcement or intelligence, require access and immediate viewing of the data. NCIC certification ensures that personnel are skilled and qualified to access, navigate and otherwise operate the system without compromising confidentiality.
Even law enforcement officers may not access NCIC equipment and data without being certified and authorized to do so. Accessing the system's equipment or data without a current NCIC certification and authorization is a serious federal crime.
The NCIC certification course is usually a one-day, eight-hour course of instruction that familiarizes the student with the system's functions, legal restrictions on accessing and divulging information, and on the functionality of the NCIC terminals. 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 is administered only to those personnel who have been identified and authorized by their respective law enforcement and intelligence department heads for access to the system. NCIC re-certification is required on a regular basis.
Access to the various functions and types of information contained on the NCIC 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.
The FBI will prosecute even the slightest violation of NCIC information access and handling regulations. 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.