Wentworth (2011) defines a fingerprint as the impression left on a surface by the friction ridges of a human’s finger. Accordingly, fingerprints can be left on a number of surfaces including polished stone, paper surfaces, glass and metal. It is important to understand that fingerprints are reliably used in forensic science and investigations to prove criminal cases and identify the real criminals behind different incidences. It is always easy to receive the fingerprints of individuals using ink or other relevant substances that might easily transfer fingerprints when the finger is pressed on a surface. Their reliability is based on a number of factors that help identify and distinguish individuals. Some of the common characteristics of fingerprints that make them highly reliable in forensic science include their detailed nature, uniqueness, durability and the fact that they are difficult to alter. The history of fingerprints is long, as they were initially used in business transactions and child identification in China and Babylon. However, early users failed to realize that they were unique to every individual. They continued using them as reliable signatures to cement business transactions. The future of fingerprints is also great with the rapid advancements of technology. The future of fingerprints is determined by the fact that the number of population is increasing extremely fast and individuals need to be identified reliably to avoid any instances of mistaken identity. Fingerprint analysis became more common since the early 20th century, when it was discovered that it could distinguish individuals in the best possible way. Such method continues to be used around the globe for crime investigations and on the identification documents, such as passports.
Types of Fingerprints
Firstly, it is important to understand the different types of fingerprints that exist and the important role they play in the identification of individuals.
According to Graham (2010), the first common type of fingerprint that could be identified is the exemplar print. It is also referred to as the known fingerprint, describing fingerprints that are deliberately collected from individuals for different purposes. They might be collected from new students coming to a school or criminals to ensure their role in the crime is clearly identified. The exemplar prints might be taken from each finger to boost reliability in the identification process. They are normally collected using ink on paper surfaces or live scan.
The second type is the latent fingerprint. It refers to the fingerprint that has been accidentally left by the friction ridge of the skin on a surface. It does not matter whether it is visible or invisible at the time of disposition. In cases where it is invisible, it is usually processed electronically, chemically or physically to ensure the exact details are acquired.
Thirdly, the patent fingerprints also form a vital part of forensic science. Cole (2009) affirms that they are friction ridge impressions that are visible to the human eye and are usually caused by the transfer of foreign material from the finger onto a surface. Common examples include impressions from wet clay. Their high visibility eliminates the need for further enhancements to boost their identification.
The fourth type is the plastic print. It refers to the friction ridge left on a material that retains the shape of the ridge detail. The appearance of such type of prints can be caused by grease deposits on car parts and candle wax. They are usually taken for photographic recording to ensure that the real criminals behind a particular crime are positively identified and brought to justice.
The History and Discovery of Fingerprints
The history of fingerprints dates back to the antiquity and medieval periods. Early fingerprints were used in ancient Babylonian pottery, tablets and seals. They were a reliable part of ancient Babylon because they were used as signatures for different business transactions during the second millennium BCE. They played an assistive role in helping reduce forgery and prevent breaching of the contracts between individuals entering a business deal. The early use of fingerprints was also common in the Qin Dynasty, which is the present day China. Chinese records indicate that fingerprints were used in burglary investigation in 206 BCE. Wentworth (2011) informs that by 246 BCE, both the Han and the Qin Dynasties were using fingerprints for business transactions and the identification of children. Again, an Arab merchant in China, Abu Zayd, experienced the use of fingerprints in the authentication of loans in China in 851 BCE. In a similar manner, the early Japanese empire allowed its people to use fingerprints as a sign in divorce petitions in 702 BCE, hence illustrating their importance and wider usage in early period. The most interesting thing about early users of fingerprints is that they did not realize that they were unique to every individual and could be helpful in separating individuals into different categories.
Cole (2009) notes that the history of fingerprints continued, as many other investigations into the fingerprint were be conducted in Europe in the 17th and 18th centuries. In 1665, Marcello Malpighi, an Italian physician, explained the existence of sweat glands and patterns of ridges on the fingerprints. The explanation was instrumental in helping the continued discovery of the relevance of fingerprints in the identification of individuals. Another botanist and physician, Nehemiah Grew, published a first scientific paper in 1684 discussing the ridge structure of the human finger. He discovered more opportunities for continued research of the fingerprint structure and its use in the unique identification of people. Graham (2010) affirms that Govard Badoo, a Dutch physician, wrote a book on anatomy in 1685 explaining the ridge structure of the hand and fingerprints. In 1788, Johann Christoph Andrea Mayer, a German anatomist, made a significant breakthrough in the entire history of fingerprints and their usage when he explained that they are unique to every person. His discovery was important for the understanding of fingerprints nature and their role in separating individuals based on their involvement in specific activities.
According to Wentworth (2011), the practicality of fingerprint use in the unique identification of people was discovered in 1858, when Sir William Herschel, an Englishman serving as a Chief Magistrate in India, introduced the utilization of fingerprints in the identification of criminals. Accordingly, he first used fingerprints on contracts and deeds to prevent the rampant repudiation of signatures and the unnecessary loss of crucial information among individuals in their transactions. He also ensured that government pensioners were fully registered using fingerprints, hence avoiding the collection of their money by relatives and other people affiliated to the pensioner after his/her death. In respect to prisoners, Herschel fingerprinted them to ensure they served their full sentences without escaping. His continued belief that fingerprints are unique to every individual played an assistive role in motivating him to continue using them for the different activities, hence motivating majority of the English people to embrace its usage for their activities.
In 1863, the interest in the usage of fingerprint continued expanding as Professor Paul-Jean Coulier published his observations indicating that latent fingerprints could be easily identified on the paper surface using iodine fuming. Graham (2010) confirms that in his publication he explained the best ways of preserving the impressions developed by a person’s finger. Additionally, he also explained the use of the magnifying glass to identify the fingerprints of suspects from the scene of the crime. His publication was also important for performing further study of fingerprints and their applicability in the identification of criminals from the crime scene using invisible fingerprints.
Dr. Henry Faulds made further advances in the history of fingerprints in 1880 when he published the a paper on the subject in the scientific journal Nature explaining the significance of fingerprints in the identification of individuals and their formation using printing ink. In his research, he also developed the first known classification of fingerprints and was the first one to identify fingerprints left on a vial. He offered the contents of his research to the Metropolitan Police in London, but did not receive the support he required, as they felt it could not assist in the investigation process. Cole (2009) states that Faulds made an effort and wrote to Charles Darwin, highlighting his method in the research of fingerprints. Darwin transferred the information to Francis Galton who had massive interest in anthropology. Therefore, Galton began making his in depth observations of the fingerprint and its usage as a means of identification in 1888. As a result, it provided more possibilities for research in the area.
The discovery of fingerprints as a means of identifying individuals uniquely continued increasing when Juan Vucetich, an Argentine police officer, developed the first method of recording the fingerprints of individuals on a file. Hawthorne (2008) agrees that he associated to the anthropometric system that Alphonse Bertillon had created in 1879 to identify individuals using anthropometric photographs. Vucetich established the first fingerprint bureau in 1892 after carefully studying the patterns that Galton had developed. His fingerprint identification system was widely used during the investigation of murder at Nichochea. The thumb mark that was found on the door played an instrumental role in identification of the individual behind the murder.
Ramotowski (2012) asserts that in June 1897, there was a growth in the popularity of fingerprint usage in India when the Council of the Governor General approved a committee report that had recommended the usage of fingerprints as a means of identifying individuals. In the same year, the first Fingerprint Bureau named the Anthropometric Bureau was opened in Calcutta, the modern day Kolkata. Azizul Haque and Hem Chandra Bose were the first individuals to work at the Anthropometric Bureau and they are primarily credited with the development of the Henry System used in the classification of fingerprints. Such method is still used across many English-speaking countries.
In 1900, the United Kingdom Home Secretary Office investigated the identification of criminals by measurement and fingerprints. Edward Richard Henry appeared before the committee of inquiry and explained its ability to distinguish individuals significantly. Wentworth (2011) points out that it led to the adoption of procedure, hence replacing the Bertillon system that tended to give inaccurate results in most instances, making it difficult for the identification of individuals. In 1901, the Fingerprint Branch at New Scotland Yard was established in line with the Henry System of Fingerprint Classification.
In the United States, the practical usage of the fingerprint became more evident in 1902 when Dr. Henry P. DeForrest utilized it at the New York Civil Service. The New York State Prison also continued using fingerprints in the identification of criminals in 1902. Hawthorne (2008) reiterates that in 1904, the use of fingerprints spread to the Leavenworth Federal Penitentiary in Kansas and the St. Louis Police Department. The fingerprint exercise was adopted more quickly by all the institutions concerned with criminal investigations and the maintenance of such records in their investigative processes.
Graham (2010) explains that the U.S. Army began using the fingerprint in 1905. Notably, the U.S. Department of Justice formed the Bureau of Criminal Identification in Washington to ensure that fingerprint cards are collected at a central place. In 1907, the U.S. Navy also followed the process and began using fingerprints in most of its activities. They started sending copies of their fingerprint cards to the National Bureau of Criminal Investigation to assist in the individual identification of criminals.
Over the years, many countries had trusted the reliability of fingerprints and their usage in unique identification of people. The popularity of fingerprints in the positive identification of criminals has continued developing over the years all over the globe. Such process illustrated the long growth period of the method and the final belief in it as a biometric system of distinguishing individuals.
In 1999, the Integrated Automated Fingerprint Identification System (IAFIS) was implemented by the Federal Bureau of Investigation to provide automated fingerprint search capabilities, the electronic storage of images and the exchange of fingerprints electronically. Graham (2010) is of the view that it is one of the most reliable systems, which contains the fingerprints of over 70 million criminals. Its creation has become a part of the fingerprints history and signified the efforts to fight crime utilizing the fingerprint system.
The growth of the fingerprint identification method has continued to the most recent years. For instance, in 2012, the world’s largest annual meeting of fingerprint experts was held to explain the new ways of development and their reliability and continued usage. In the same year, the International Police (INTERPOL) Automated Identification System had over 150,000 different sets of fingerprints for the most wanted global criminals, hence indicating its ability to distinguish individuals. In 2015, the Unique Identification Authority of India remains the world’s largest fingerprint system used in recording various individual details. The automated fingerprint system is serving the key purpose of boosting the easier identification of people not only in India but other countries, as well.
Regarding the abovementioned information, it is clear that the history of fingerprints has been significantly long. Many people played key roles in their individual capacity to contribute to the usage of the fingerprint as a means that can uniquely identify people. Any contribution was assistive in leading to the current reliability of fingerprints in different countries and police departments for criminal investigations.
The Development of the Fingerprint in the Next 200-300 Years
The most important point to note here is that the future of fingerprints is great. It is difficult to eliminate them from the biometric identification of people due to their uniqueness and durability in the life of a person. The next 200 or 300 years would offer an effective ground for the development of fingerprint usage. The development of the fingerprint in the next 200 or 300 years deals with the technological advancements being witnessed across different countries. It is difficult to exclude the effect of technology in such growth process, which would ensure more reliability of the biometric system of identifying individuals.
Firstly, the development of fingerprints will shift from the current problem where fingerprints left at the crime scene are invisible to a situation where they glow and renew themselves, hence simplifying the process of investigation. Graham (2010) opines that the glowing electrified fingerprints are the future of forensics in the next 200 or 300 years. Despite the fact that fingerprints left at the crime scene tend to be everywhere, it is usually difficult for forensic investigators to identify them distinctively with the parties involved. It lengthens the entire process of crime investigations. Nevertheless, different researches have been done in order to make the investigation processes easier and faster. For example, there has been performed a research referred to as the electrochemiluminescence, which puts forward the new way of studying fingerprints and understanding them. As a result of it, the forensic experts will have a possibility to receive the high-resolution images that would provide important details to identify every person. The demand for high-resolution fingerprints is widely increasing across the world due to the need to avoid further confusions in the identification of individuals involved in criminal activities. The efforts to receive the glowing fingerprints has already been made at the China Zhejiang University in Hangzhou, which is highly focused on developing a technique that makes both old and new fingerprints glow without destroying them. Such technology would be more automatic in the 200 or 300 years from now, hence increasing efficiency in the investigation process.
Secondly, the next 200 or 300 years will witness a massive shift from the use of ink in deriving fingerprints. The emergence of the 3-D system, which projects the patterns of light onto the finger and analyzes it in a few seconds highlights the future of the fingerprint investigation. Ink and other liquids have been used over the years to acquire fingerprints from people in the course of investigations or other identification activities. Ramotowski (2012) suggests that it would automatically change in the next 200 or 300 years, as there would be increased need for accuracy and efficiency in the identification of people. There would be an upgrade on the 3-D system that has been widely used recently. A new system, maybe a 10-D system of reading people’s fingers would be developed to boost the accuracy of the whole process. It would also save time, as it might only take an instant to identify the required person that might have been involved in the crime. Institutions, such as the University of Kentucky, have focused on the development of the 3-D system to ensure the fingerprinting technology is developed in the best possible way. The fingerprinting technology would become more efficient and an important part of the forensic investigation system.
Thirdly, the coming 200 or 300 years will witness increased usage of digital photography and videography. With continued research, high-resolution and affordable digital technology would be advanced to ensure that the relevant information is collected from the crime scene. Video cameras have been reliably used in the past to collect details from a crime scene, especially those involving the identification of fingerprints. Wentworth (2011) predicts that the fingerprint technology will move away from relying on the current systems of operation to the more advanced and cheaper digital technologies that would make crime investigations easier than before. Digital photography and videography using the powerful cameras would play a helpful role in assisting police departments to improve their investigative processes, hence acquiring immediate results from the scene. There would be no need to multiple tests on a particular sample of a fingerprint due to the high-resolution digital photographs and videography. The latent prints developed at the crime scene would be digitally photographed and entered directly into the fingerprint recording system from the crime scene using the mobile phones. During this time, mobile phones would have been highly advanced, hence making it easier for investigators to transfer the details of the fingerprint to the main center.
In terms of fingerprints, it is also possible to imagine that the next 200 or 300 years would witness the development of fingerprints for amputees and other people without fingers. The continued demand for a clear system of identifying individuals can lead to the development of prosthetic hands for amputees. It could also cause the emergence of robotic systems used as hands for amputees. Graham (2010) affirms that the development of prosthetic hands would be done in such a way that they match the exact functions of a normal human hand, hence making them efficient in the detection of fingerprints. The hand would be more helpful because it would tighten its grip on objects, hence leaving there an impression that can be taken as a fingerprint for the unique identification of individuals. The reflex action of the prosthetic hand would be similar to the normal human hand, leaving skin ridges on an object. With advanced fingerprint technology there will be no confusion between the fingerprints of individuals, especially those using prosthetic hands.
Overall, it must be agreed that the coming 200 or 300 years would witness a revolution in the fingerprint technology. Everything involved in the usage of the fingerprint would be extremely different from what is used by the experts at the moment. Justice would be more instant due to the quicker transmission of fingerprints and identification with relevant individuals. New systems of thinking will prepare the basis for fingerprint transformation and increased reliability in the future. As a result, it will lead to the attainment of the desired results.
The Uses of Fingerprints
As far as the history of fingerprints and their future is concerned, it is also important to understand their various uses around the world. The reliability and uniqueness of fingerprints makes it easier for them to be used for different purposes.
The first major use of the fingerprint is the login authentication and other locks. Individuals are being required to login to different accounts using their fingerprint. Cole (2009) confirms that such use started being utilized in 2000 when more security in log-ins where required. Fingerprint readers have also been effectively trained to ensure that they identify any areas of weaknesses in the use of the fingerprints in the log-ins and other locks.
Additionally, they are used in electronic registration and library access. It is common to schools where students are uniquely identified using their fingerprints. Such practice is widely spread in the U.S. and the U.K. schools that look forward to identifying their students and ensuring they have an automatic access to their school’s library. Such precautions aim at preventing unauthorized individuals from accessing the library and enjoying free services. Such method has been perceived more reliable in controlling the use of school systems.
Thirdly, they are used to identify the unknown criminals and ensure they are arrested within the required time. Wentworth (2011) holds the view that forensic investigations rely on fingerprints due to their ability to offer the specific details of a person. It helps in regulation of criminal activities, as most of them can be identified easily.
Lastly, fingerprints are widely used in the registration of individuals for official documents, such as the identity card and the passport. They play an instrumental role in uniquely identifying individuals in such official documents. Again, they could be used to trace the owner of such documents in cases where losses are reported and the person cannot be reached immediately.
In conclusion, the discovery of the fingerprint appears to be one of the most important discoveries that have ever been made in human history. It could be seen from the various functions it serves in terms of uniquely identifying individuals. From the history discussed above, it is evident that fingerprinting has grown over the years and its reliability in identifying individuals has been excellent till present times. Various professionals in different fields became interested in studying the fingerprints and weighing its potential applications to the identification of individuals. However, the breakthrough made by Johan Christoph Andreas Mayer in 1788 is considered to be the most responsible for the modern use of fingerprints because it recognized that humans could be distinctly identified from them. It gave a possibility to perform more investigations to study the use of fingerprints. Despite the numerous disadvantages emanating from the ability of individuals to manipulate biometric devices, the future of the fingerprint remains bright. Various institutions have already started investigating the subject to ensure that more modern methods are advanced, hence making the fingerprint more reliable. In the next 200 or 300 years, there would be numerous changes relating to the collection of the fingerprints and the technology used in the collection of fingerprint evidences. For instance, digital technology have greatly developed, ensuring that fingerprints can glow and be used for in depth researches. The collection of information about criminals would be much easier in the next 200 or 300 years. Even individuals without hands will have a possibility to receive technologically developed limbs with reliable fingerprints that will help in their separation from the people who commit offenses. Consequently, with the emerging technology and interest in fingerprint research, it can be stated that the future changes will be astonishing.