Fingerprints are unique, since no two people have the same fingerprints. Fingerprint identification is currently the most common biometric technology. According to the International Biometric Group, the share of the fingerprint recognition is 52% of total used in the world of biometric systems. During excavations archaeologists often face the other images or fingerprints on the stone, but there is no sufficient evidence that they were used for identification. However, the historical sources say that in ancient Babylon and China fingerprints were done on clay tablets and seals and in the 14th century in Persia fingerprint was used for “signing” various governmental documents. Therefore, the unique capability of fingerprints to give some characteristics of a person in the identification process had been already noted in the ancient times. William Herschel, who worked in India as the Assistant Joint Magistrate and Collector in the years 1853-1878, was the first European who recognized the value of fingerprints for identification purposes. Originally, Herschel practiced fingerprinting in governmental monthly payments for local residents. Hindus, which for Europeans they all look the same, often used to get the money due to them for the second time. To prevent such fraud, Herschel told to put fingerprints on pay stubs and log books for comparison, which allowed establishing identity of the recipient accurately. In July 28, Herschel suggested using fingerprinting in one of the district prisons. This started the use of fingerprinting in forensic science. The other researcher, who discovered fingerprints, was the Scottish doctor Henry Faulds. He developed a fingerprint classification system and made guidance for identification through dactyloscopy of all ten fingers.
For a clearer understanding of the advantages of fingerprinting among the other criminal investigation techniques, the readers should be aware of how it works and what it means. “Fingerprints are representations of the physical attributes of the tips of fingers,” says Cole in his book about fingerprinting (Cole, 2002, p.306). The identification process with the use of fingerprinting is “based on distinctive ridge outlines which appear on the bulbs on the inside of the end joints of the fingers and thumbs” (U.S. Dept. Of Justice, Federal Bureau of Investigation, 1993, p.iv). The ridges of fingerprints form patterns are called whorls, loops or arches. Loops are the most common pattern of fingertips. They start on one side of the finger, curve around or upward and exit another side (Watson, n.d., p.2). Whorls are of spiral or circular pattern, whereas arches incline upward and down like spired mountains. For distinguishing the types of fingerprints, scientists have to consider the shape, arrangement, size and number of lines present in the pattern.
The earliest types of fingerprinting were done with the help of printer’s black ink and a card. Having cleaned the sweat from a person’s finger with alcohol first, investigators make him or her put finger cushion into black ink and roll it onto prepared card for leaving a finger-mark there. In addition to the “rolled” impressions, the other type of fingerprints is required. If all fingers are placed simultaneously on the card, we get the plain impressions to verify the accuracy of the rolled finger-marks. Law enforcement officers usually deal with visible prints and latent ones. Blood or dirt may leave an impression on a surface and, as a result, police gets visible traces for identification. Latent prints are the impressions of finger sweat or oil left on the subjects. They are invisible for the naked eye. To identify them, police requires dark powder, lasers or special tapes and photographs.
Nowadays, digital scanners or, in other words, Automated Fingerprint Identification Systems (AFIS) are applied for getting the most accurate fingerprints. This system obtains, stores and analyzes fingerprint data. “To create a digital fingerprint, a person places his or her finger on an optical or silicon reader surface and holds it there for a few seconds”(Watson, n.d., p.3). Latent prints can be recognized with the help of the machine, as well. Through the converting the information from the scan into digital data pattern, it became possible to search similar samples in the database. The accurate and quick results usually help in solving and proving the cases of forensic science, since the IAFIS of the USA holds all fingerprint sets of the whole country.
Comparatively with the other forms of biometrical identification, fingerprinting remains the best method for this purpose, “because it is inexpensive to collect and analyze, and fingerprints never change with aging” (Watson, n.d., p.2).