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Evolution of Fingerprint Technology

NCJ Number
Evidence Technology Magazine Volume: 1 Issue: 2 Dated: July-August 2003 Pages: 12-15
Kristi Mayo
Date Published
July 2003
4 pages
This article traces the history of fingerprint technology and projects its future developments.
Although many people laid the foundation for the development of fingerprint science, Sir Edward Henry, a British inspector-general of police in the Province of Bengal in the late 1800's, is credited with taking the research of Sir Francis Galton, who published the first book about fingerprints and their forensic utility, and using it to develop a fingerprint classification system that led to the system used today. The system includes the documentation of fingerprints with ink and 10-print cards; the discovery of latent, patent, and plastic fingerprints at crime scenes; the capturing and preservation of those crime-scene fingerprints so they can be used as evidence; the classification of discovered fingerprints so they can be analyzed for potential matching; the matching of evidentiary fingerprints with previously recorded or documented prints; and the positive identification of perpetrators that can lead to arrests, trials, and possibly convictions. Two significant events mark the early development of fingerprint technology in the United States in 1903. The New York City police established a small fingerprint bureau to record fingerprints of those arrested; and in the same year, fingerprint technology successfully distinguished between male twins who were apparently identical in every other physical characteristic. This article includes an overview of the technology currently available for categories of fingerprint discovery, recovery, preservation, and classification. Substances and processes used in fingerprint discovery include graphite powder, magnetic powders, iodine fuming, superglue fuming, ninhydrin, DFO, silver nitrate, amido black, alternative light source, ultraviolet light, laser, and the reflective ultraviolet imaging system. Recovery can be achieved with lifting tapes, gel lifters, flap lifters, and backing cards, as well as cameras and their accessories. Current fingerprint classification is achieved through the latest computer technology, which uses sophisticated computer software to highlight specific identifying features. These digital results can be used to automatically call up latent-fingerprint records in an automated database. A fingerprint expert can then analyze the recovered print to determine whether features match. Although fingerprint technology has high potential for identification reliability, it is still a human enterprise subject to the inexperience, ineptitude, and even fabrication of those humans involved in the enterprise. The future should see new innovations in discovery and recovery tools, more sophisticated computer software, and new identification tools.