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an impression of the underside of the end of a finger or thumb, used for identification because the arrangement of ridges in any fingerprint is thought to be unique and permanent with each person (no two persons having the same prints have ever been found). Palm prints and footprints are also used, especially for identification of infants. Traditionally, impressions have been taken from a person using ink and paper, but in live-scan fingerprinting electronic images produced by a video scanner are converted by computer into binary codes, which can be more readily compared.

As an identification device, fingerprinting dates from antiquity, but modern systems began essentially with the work of Henry Faulds, William James Herschel, and Sir Francis Galton in the late 19th cent. Fingerprints gained acceptance as a more objective form of identification than visual recognition. The Galton method, elaborated by E. R. Henry, is still used in Great Britain and the United States. Juan Vucetich in Argentina, also using Galton as a guide, developed (1904) an alternate system that gained wide acceptance in Spanish-speaking countries.

Fingerprinting for identification of criminals was first used in connection with the Bertillon systemBertillon system
, first scientific method of criminal identification, developed by the French criminologist Alphonse Bertillon (1853–1914). The system, based on the classification of skeletal and other body measurements and characteristics, was officially adopted in
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. Most countries now require that all criminals be fingerprinted. Methods have also been devised for developing fingerprint impressions left by criminals at the scene of a crime. The most common uses a brush and powder to mark the fingerprint, which is then photographed and lifted from the surface using tape. The reliability of fingerprints for criminal identification is complicated by the need to use crime scene prints that may be partial or distorted and by the technical competency of the person identifying the print (computer identification is often used as an aid).

In 2002 a federal judge ruled that, because of inconsistencies in laboratory identification of fingerprints, fingerprint identification as practiced was not accurate enough to be used without qualification, and that an expert cannot testify that a person's fingerprints absolutely match those found at a crime, though an expert may point out similarity between two sets of prints and may state that no two people have identical prints. The judge reversed himself two months later, deciding that although the FBI's fingerprint identification procedures were not proven scientifically according to a strict standard they were nonetheless sufficiently reliable.

In the United States, prints also are taken of civilian government employees and members of the armed forces and by some banks and other agencies. Some states now require a thumbprint when applying for a driver's license, and banks and check-cashing institutions are increasingly requiring a thumbprint before cashing checks, particularly in states that use license thumbprints. Some stores also require thumbprints when paying by check or even by credit card. A national fingerprint file and database is maintained by the Federal Bureau of InvestigationFederal Bureau of Investigation
(FBI), division of the U.S. Dept. of Justice charged with investigating all violations of federal laws except those assigned to some other federal agency.
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See C. Beavan, Fingerprints (2001), and S. A. Cole, Suspect Identities (2001). Technical works on the subject include H. C. Lee and R. E. Gaensslen, ed., Advances in Fingerprint Technology (2d ed., 2001), D. R. Ashbaugh, Quantitative-Qualitative Friction Ridge Analysis (1999), and D. L. Faigman et al., Modern Scientific Evidence (2d ed., 2002).


(analytical chemistry)
Evidence for the presence or the identity of a substance that is obtained by techniques such as spectroscopy, chromatography, or electrophoresis.
(forensic science)
A pattern of distinctive epidermal ridges on the bulbs of the inside of the end joints of fingers and thumbs.
An impression of a human fingerprint.


1. an impression of the pattern of ridges on the palmar surface of the end joint of each finger and thumb
2. Biochem the pattern of fragments obtained when a protein is digested by a proteolytic enzyme, usually observed following two-dimensional separation by chromatography and electrophoresis


A physical or electronic pattern. See fingerprint reader, acoustic fingerprint, virtual fingerprint, video fingerprint and signature.
References in periodicals archive ?
Applying Fractional Diffusion Smoothing to Latent Fingerprint 2
Testimony at the Daubert hearing indicated that some latent fingerprint examiners insist that there is no error rate associated with their activities.
Though it is difficult to lift viable latent fingerprints off human skin, five accepted techniques have been developed: iodine fuming followed by the transfer of the latent print to another surface; transferring the latent onto Kromecote paper and dusting with conventional powders; sprinkling lead dust on the suspected print then utilizing x-rays to produce a visual print; dusting the area of skin with magnetic powder and transferring the latent print to Dactyfoil; and using cyanoacrylate fuming to create a visible latent print then dusting with conventional powders.
The Crime Scene Unit and Latent Print Unit processes about 800 latent fingerprint assignments a year.
Richard Leas served as the Major Incident Program Manager in the FBI Laboratory's Latent Print Support Unit before retiring and joining Oak Ridge Associated Universities as a Latent Fingerprint Examiner.
Once a latent fingerprint is entered into a computer, commercial software is often used to enhance its quality.
Latent fingerprint examiners form the nucleus of the FBI Disaster Squad.
One set of minutiae contains all minutiae points on the latent fingerprint; the second set contains all minutiae points on the tenprint mate; the other two sets contain the minutiae points in common between the latent fingerprint and tenprint mate.
While the lab is equipped for latent fingerprint processing, it has only one fingerprint specialist, meaning that much work must be shipped to the main lab in Whittier.
As the supplier of biometric algorithms to the FBI, Morpho's biometric matching technology is ranked #1 by NIST (National Institute of Standards & Technology) for lights-out latent fingerprint accuracy, providing agencies with the most cost-effective solution to process large numbers of latent searches while allowing their experts to focus on the most critical cases.
During the investigation police found a fully loaded ammunition clip left behind by one of the suspects and a latent fingerprint was recovered from it, court records state.
The supervisory fingerprint examiner encoded seven minutiae points for the high-resolution image of latent fingerprint #17 and initiated an IAFIS search.