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New research proves that fingerprint accuracy remains unchanged over time


A Michigan State University professor and his former Ph.D. student have published a new paper that proves that fingerprint recognition accuracy between two comparable fingerprints remains the same over time.

“We wanted to answer the question that has plagued law enforcement and forensic science for decades: Is fingerprint pattern persistent over time?” said Anil Jain, professor of computer science and engineering at Michigan State University. “We have now determined, with multilevel statistical modeling, that fingerprint recognition accuracy remains stable over time.”

For their study, Jain and Soweon Yoon, who now works the National Institute of Standards and Technology, used the fingerprint records of 15,597 subjects collected multiple times by the Michigan State Police over a time span ranging from five to 12 years.

The paper, which is published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, is considered the largest and most comprehensive study of the persistence of Automated Fingerprint Identification Systems (AFIS) accuracy.

Many experts have backed Jain’s fingerprint recognition accuracy, including Professor Christophe Champod of Switzerland’s Université de Lausanne.

“This study is one of the fundamental pieces of research on a topic that has always been taken for granted,” said Professor Champod. “The permanence of fingerprints has not been systematically studied since the seminal work of Herschel was presented in Galton’s book: Finger Prints (1892, Macmillian & Co.). Although operational practice has shown that the papillary patterns on our hands and feet are extremely stable and subject to limited changes (apart from scars), the study presented in PNAS provides empirical and statistical evidence.”

“Dr. Jain’s analytic quantification on fingerprint persistence of the results significantly support early studies on fingerprint persistence and yet further support legal requirements for peer review and publication,” said Jim Loudermilk, senior level technologist at the FBI Science and Technology Branch.

Jain’s research was supported by a grant from the National Science Foundation Center for Identification Technology Research.

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