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Fingerprint biometrics still a solid tool for police – despite persistent myths

Fingerprint biometrics still a solid tool for police – despite persistent myths

A lengthy research paper looking at myths about fingerprint evidence likely surprises even many evidence experts who think the biometric is passé in an age of face and voice recognition.

Not only does the paper soundly make the case that there is more to discover using fingerprint biometrics, it also serves as a warning about how to view the newer biometrics.

A rigorous scientific approach is required when using fingerprint evidence-gathering, according to the researchers from Lebanon, India and North Macedonia. Imposing judgments on the process decrease the chances of finding facts.

And while the AI algorithms supporting analysis and matching are increasingly powerful allies in ID verification and authentication, expert human interpretation is a critical best practice before action can be taken.

Lead researcher, Saleh Mansour of the faculty of criminology at Lebanese University and Criminal Intelligence Officer with Interpol, has said in a two-part post on LinkedIn that “widespread” misconceptions about fingerprint biometrics are harming justice systems worldwide and impairing training.

New techniques and technology are making it possible to retrieve prints even after someone has wiped or even cleaned some surfaces. Technologies developed by forensics researchers in recent years include new types of fingerprint detection powder and scanning with Kelvin probes. Weathering that in the past — sunlight, rain, humidity — made getting usable prints impossible pose less of a hurdle, according to the paper.

The new paper’s researchers list 13 other myths that remain too prevalent.

For example, contrary to conventional wisdom, “biological traces” in the molecular makeup of fingerprints can reveal the subject’s gender.

The paper also finds that tight latex gloves can, indeed, transfer a fingerprint to a surface.

And, particularly surprising given the 130-year run that fingerprint analysis has had, some practitioners still erroneously believe identical twins can have identical prints.

It also is important to note that the authors spotlight false assumptions about fingerprint invulnerability, too. For instance, no methodology for examining and analyzing prints is 100 percent error-free.

Just as the justice and law enforcement systems operate on misconceptions about the 130-year-old practice of gathering evidence using fingerprints, overly optimistic — or self-serving — assumptions about the reliability of face and other biometric tools can lead to a miscarriage of justice.

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