U.S. flag

An official website of the United States government, Department of Justice.

How We Can Improve the Reliability of Fingerprint Identification

NCJ Number
Judicature Volume: 90 Issue: 2 Dated: September-October 2006 Pages: 55-57
Michael Cherry; Edward Imwinkelried
Date Published
September 2006
3 pages
This article discusses the problems with the current fingerprint examination system in the United States and offers recommendations for addressing those problems.
The main problem with the current fingerprint examination system is that it cannot handle the enormous influx of new fingerprints that have hit the system in the past several years. Currently there are approximately 500 million criminal fingerprints in the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Integrated Automated Fingerprint Information System (IAFIS) Fingerprint Repository. The world population of fingerprints currently exceeds 60 billion. The current fingerprint examination system is tasked with the daily examination of approximately 130,000 arrest booking, watch list, employment background, and criminal checks and its potential “matches” lack the corroboration of neighboring fingers. Recommendations for improving the fingerprint examination system are offered and include the reinstitution of the Henry 10 Finger Classification System, which used all 10 fingers and their interrelationships in classifying an individual in the times when it was still possible to manually maintain and search inked fingerprint cards. The author also recommends conducting more research on the best way to work with fingerprints and the best way to sort and maintain the fingerprint examination system. Data mining is presented as a computer-based analysis technique that can look for patterns, trends, and associations within the fingerprint repository, which can then be used to identify the best ways to use ridge information, pores, and other elements as identifying characteristics. In the absence of a major reinvention of the fingerprint examination system, the reliability of fingerprint “matches” will come under increasing scrutiny. Footnotes