Fingerprinting Criticism

Our civilization has always been intrigued with identification of those individuals whose actions were deemed by societal standards to be unacceptable, and society has particularly been concerned with those who may have needed to be punished for their crimes. Some of these individuals were deemed too dangerous to be living among the population and, therefore, were remanded to a facility in order to ensure the public's safety. Different countries have historically handled identification of their repeat offenders in different ways. Some created markings on the criminal by means such as branding, while other countries would tattoo their criminals so that they could be distinguishable from the rest of the public.

For well over a century, fingerprinting has been an accepted method of identifying and tracking criminals. Thus, fingerprinting has made a positive impact on culture and society by establishing an infallible method of personal identification. Or, has it?

While the arguments favoring the use of fingerprinting for personal identification are quite robust, let us review the arguments for and against this universally accepted procedure.

  • The human element eliminates the infallibility of the fingerprint methodology as a personal identification mechanism. Mistakes can be made by the administrator in the process of printing, or by the expert who is responsible for making the final determination upon review of the possible matches.
  • There is no data available that could quantify the percentage of errors made in personal identification through the utilization of fingerprints.
  • There are also errors that can occur in the process of taking inked fingerprints. The fingerprints can be rendered illegible in the inking process if:
    • The finger has not been rolled fully from side to side.
    • The entire finger from its joint to its top has not been inked.
    • The finger is not held securely in place. If the technician holds the fingers too loosely (or too securely), there could be a smudging or blurring of the prints, thus rendering a false pattern of prints.
    • The usage of an inappropriate texture of ink can result in running of the ink and pattern distortion. Black printer's ink of a heavy texture is the advisable texture to use.
    • The usage of too much ink can distort the patterns.
    • The usage of too little ink will render the ridge patterns indistinguishable.
    • Temporary disabilities to the fingerprint subject, such as cuts and blisters, can distort the pattern of the ridges.
    • Excessive perspiration on the fingers of the subject may inhibit the ink from adhering to the fingers which would result in a blurred and inaccurate outcome.
  • Errors made on the information card that accompanies the fingerprints, such as name, date of birth, sex and age can lead to complications as to the authenticity of the prints.
  • Fingerprints are the ultimate source in the establishment of both the verification and recognition of a person's identity. This statement is based on three factors: fingerprints are distinct and unique to each individual, and no two people have identical prints; fingerprints are unchangeable over the course of a lifetime of a person; and fingerprints can be extracted from any surface they come into contact with.
  • Inexpensive
  • Reliable
  • Fast Results
  • Multi-faceted usage, including criminal, commercial, financial and civilian identifications
  • Deterrent to crime and fraud
  • Effective in streamlining business processes
  • Preservation of personnel and financial resources in both the private and public sectors. Fingerprinting is the most basic and assured of security mechanisms.
  • World wide computerized system is already in effect and extremely valuable during criminal investigations, since the database has been established.
  • Identifies who a person is, as opposed to what a person has, such as a password, pin # or other identification of that nature. It establishes identification through the identification of unchangeable personal characteristics. A person may change hair color, but cannot alter fingerprints. One cannot guess, fake or forget fingerprints as can occur in non-biometric identification methodologies. The individual who is fingerprinted must be physically present in order to be processed.
As the process of personal identification continues to grow in sophistication, fingerprinting remains the best method to establish personal identification. To date, no system has been developed that surpasses fingerprinting as a reliable method of authenticating an individual's identity.