In 1882, Gilbert Thompson of the U.S. Geological Survey in New Mexico, used his own thumb print on a document to help prevent forgery, recording the first known use of fingerprints in the United States.
Almost 140 years later, the practice of fingerprinting and the use of fingerprints are still being used to solve crimes, deliver accurate identification of people, gain access to a defendant’s criminal history, and provide other useful information within law enforcement and the justice system.
For example, in 2018, a single fingerprint led investigators to solve a 31-year-old cold case. In another recent case, rechecking a fingerprint from 1999 helped investigators from the FBI to see minute details on fingerprint friction ridges that were left on a paper bag. That new analysis eventually led to a match and an arrest.
Clearly, the practice of collecting personal information through fingerprint scans has stood the test of time. With so many technologies available to law enforcement, what makes fingerprints so valuable and reliable?
One factor may be the fact that fingerprints are virtually unique: fingerprints develop through an essentially random process according to the code in your DNA (the genetic recipe that tells a body how to develop). Even the prints of identical twins are different.
Other visible human characteristics, such as facial features, can change with age, but fingerprints, that provide each individual with a unique pattern, means that no two fingerprints are alike.
How is that achieved? We all have three main fingerprint patterns: arches, loops, and whorls. The shape, size, number, and arrangement of the details in the patterns make each fingerprint unique, which also makes them an attractive and reliable way to personally identify an individual, such as someone who has left a fingerprint behind at a crime scene.
Yet, it’s not just law enforcement agencies that collect and maintain databases of fingerprints. Outside of law enforcement, fingerprints are increasingly used in our everyday lives. For example, you likely unlock your smartphone with your fingerprint. In addition, our fingerprints are used to gain access to an area or a facility, or to access a cash machine, or to use our credit card at a retail store.
Many types of professions that require professional licensing or certification (such as teachers, or doctors and nurses) mandate fingerprinting as a condition of their employment. It’s also typical to provide fingerprints when having a document notarized. Even more, many PCs employ fingerprint readers to unlock the device. Increasingly, automatic doors are employing fingerprint technology to open them. Individuals add their fingerprints to the biometrics employed within the door technology, and then the door will open only when it scans those fingerprints, and they are recognized.
Within companies big and small, many security teams are beginning to realize the advantages of fingerprint authentication to secure their facilities.
And new technology with fingerprint scanners makes it easier than ever. For example, there are fingerprint scanners that are used to offer a frictionless process for employees to enter and exit a building, which can free up security teams to focus their attention on other high-priority security issues.
Another benefit of using fingerprint scanning for safety and security is for time and attendance.
No more manual logging of employees clocking in and out, as a simple and quick scan of their fingerprint can help them to get on the job faster while helping HR and security to who is in building and when, with personalized time and attendance reports.
Your fingerprints really are the “key” to everything, including with security and safety.
Check out our fingerprint modules and solutions here.