What Is the Difference Between Civil and Criminal Identification?

Criminal identification is the cataloging of the characteristics of a person who has committed a crime for the first time or using those characteristics to identify a repeat offender. Civil identification may use some of the same characteristics to identify people who have not committed crimes but have agreed to catalogue their identifying information for civil purposes, such as joining the military, working for the federal government and naturalization.

Criminal identification includes mug shots, height, weight, hair and eye color and tattoos and scars. It could include DNA, facial patterns, iris patterns, voice patterns and palm prints and may also include information about any criminal history and aliases.

Civil identification generally includes fingerprints and any information submitted voluntarily. It is used for criminal background checks to rule out a criminal record for reasons such as employment or licensing, to adopt a child or to work, live or travel in another country. It is also used to verify a person’s identity.

As of 2014, the FBI currently has the largest repository of fingerprints in the world, including more than 70 million criminal fingerprints and histories as well as 34 million civil fingerprints. Its criminal database includes the fingerprints of over 73,000 terrorists taken by both the U.S. and international law enforcement agencies.