Fingerprints have been used by law enforcement and forensics experts to successfully identify people for more than 100 years. Though fingerprints are assumed to be infallible personal identifiers, there has been little scientific research to prove this claim to be true. As such, there have been repeated challenges to the admissibility of fingerprint evidence in courts of law.

“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, University Distinguished Professor, computer science and engineering, at Michigan State University. “We have now determined, with multilevel statistical modeling, that fingerprint recognition accuracy remains stable over time.”

Jain, along with his former Ph.D. student Soweon Yoon, who is now with the National Institute of Standards and Technology, used fingerprint records of 15,597 subjects apprehended multiple times by the Michigan State Police over a time span varying from five to 12 years.

The results show that fingerprint recognition accuracy doesn’t change even as the time between two fingerprints being compared increases.

The paper by Yoon and Jain, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, is the largest and most thorough study of the persistence of Automated Fingerprint Identification Systems, or AFIS, accuracy.

Experts agree that Jain’s research addresses one of the most fundamental issues in fingerprint identification and is of great importance to law enforcement and forensic science:

“This study is one of the fundamental pieces of research on a topic that has always been taken for granted. 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.” Professor Christophe Champod, Université de Lausanne, Switzerland.

“This study is a monumental achievement and one that will benefit forensic science teams worldwide.” Capt. Greg Michaud, director of the Forensic Science Division, Michigan State Police.

“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.” 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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DNA Leads to Man’s Arrest in 1995 Rape

A man is facing rape charges in an attack that happened more than 20 years ago after Manhattan prosecutors said a DNA sample linked him to the crime.

Joseph Giardala pleaded not guilty Friday in state Supreme Court to charges that he attacked a 25-year-old woman after she left a West Village movie theater on Jan. 23, 1995. Prosecutors say Mr. Giardala, now 44 years old, forced the woman into a nearby building’s vestibule and raped and robbed her at knife point.

Mr. Giardala’s attorney, Richard Ma, declined to comment on the case. His client was ordered held without bail; his next court appearance is set for June 4.

Assistant District Attorney Melissa Mourges said prosecutors identified the suspect through DNA. Immediately after the rape, the woman went to a hospital, where DNA from the attacker was collected as part of a rape-evidence kit, Ms. Mourges said.

The attack was reported to police, but leads were exhausted and the case went cold, she said.

The kit was tested in 2001 as part of an effort to tackle a backlog of rape-kit cases and the data uploaded to the national DNA database, Ms. Mourges said, but no match was found.

Under the statute of limitations, prosecutors had 10 years from the time the crime was committed to file charges. So, in 2003, Ms. Mourges said, the Manhattan district attorney’s office obtained a “John Doe” indictment listing the attacker’s DNA profile in lieu of a name.

Ms. Mourges said the office was informed April 7 that the DNA matched Mr. Giardala, based on a DNA profile that was entered into the national database in Florida earlier this year.

A warrant was issued for Mr. Giardala’s arrest and authorities apprehended him at Los Angeles International Airport last week. He was accompanied to New York by detectives from the Manhattan Special Victims Squad on Thursday night, Ms. Mourges said.

Prosecutors said Friday the arrest stemmed from a project begun in 2000 that led to the testing of 17,000 sexual-assault evidence kits in police storage.

In denying bail for Mr. Giardala, Judge Bonnie Wittner cited his “total lack of ties to New York City and his nomadic existence.”

Mr. Giardala had close to a dozen credit cards and several driver’s licenses from different states when he was arrested, Ms. Mourges said. In the past five months, he had used an electronic benefits card in Florida, New Jersey, New York and Los Angeles, she said.

She said that in the 12 months before April 11, Mr. Giardala purchased more than 200 airline tickets for destinations as far-flung as Moscow; several countries in Europe and South America; and Japan, Hawaii and Guam.

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Forensic Fingerprint Technique Reveals Forgers and Counterfeiters

For more than a century, fingerprints have been crucial to the investigation of crime and are still responsible for more identifications than DNA evidence. Now, a University of Huddersfield researcher is responsible for breakthroughs that will make fingerprinting a more valuable forensic tool than ever. Fraudsters are among the offenders who will be easier to detect, thanks to the work of Dr. Benjamin Jones.

He headed a team that has discovered a technique for taking fingerprints from laser-printed paper and — crucially — detecting whether or not the mark was made before or after it was printed on.

An award-winning article describing the new technique explains that “in cases such as fraud or counterfeiting it can be imperative to know whether a fingerprint has been deposited before or after the paper is printed with compromising material, and therefore be able to assess whether a suspect is associated with the printed evidence.”

In a project that received £170,000 funding from The Leverhulme Trust, Jones and his team discovered that a scientific technique known as secondary ion mass spectrometry (SIMS) — which analyses surfaces at the microscale — can provide a detailed chemical map of the layers on laser-printed paper — including fingerprints — and the order in which they were deposited. This means, for example, that a suspect could no longer claim that he or she had handled a piece of blank paper when simply refilling a photocopier or printer.

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Thirty Years Later, Flipping Prints Reveals Man’s Identity

For three decades, the key to identifying a pedestrian struck and killed near an interstate exit ramp sat at investigators’ fingertips. They just didn’t realize it.

The man was walking on Interstate 65 in central Kentucky in 1984 when he was struck by a semitruck. With no identification, the only clues he left were a couple of tattoos, a pack of cigarettes and his fingerprints.

The prints yielded no matches. John Doe’s body remained unidentified thirty years later, when the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System asked state police to review cold cases.

Forensic analyst Keith Dollinger went through John Doe’s file and noticed something odd about the ridges and patterns of the fingerprints.

“It looked to me like right hand prints were on the left hand card because of the way the ridges went through,” he said.

He was right: Investigators had transposed the prints. The right hand was on a card labeled “left” and vice versa.

“Once he figured that that out, it kind of snowballed from there,” Kentucky State Police Lt. Brian Sumner said.

Now, the man has a name: Roy Andrew Langley, who sometimes went by the alias “Red Anderson.” He spent his life in and out of police custody and was 34 when he died by the side of the road in Elizabethtown.

A preliminary identification was made in May, and this week, the Hardin County Coroner’s Office tracked down Langley’s sister in Houston for confirmation. Attempts by The Associated Press to reach Debra Langley Hamidian were unsuccessful.

Transposing fingerprints isn’t an everyday mistake, but it’s not uncommon, said Todd Matthews, director of case management and communications for the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System.

“There have been other times where prints were flipped,” Matthews said, although he didn’t have statistics on the frequency.

In fact, the officer who made the catch in Langley’s case said he’s caught himself making the same mistake.

“It’s something that happens every so often,” said Dollinger, a forensic specialist analyst with state police’s Automated Fingerprint Identification System. “It’s just something you have to be careful about.”

After discovering the error, Dollinger, who has 20 years of experience, resubmitted the prints through the state and national identification systems and turned up Langley’s name.

“It was kind of a quiet satisfaction,” Dollinger said. “It was a good thing because we know who the fellow is. The family can get some closure.”

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Fingerprint Could Help Solve 30-year-old Cold Case

A single fingerprint, lifted with a pipe cleaner and super glue, has led investigators to reopen a 30-year-old murder case.

The fingerprint was saved for three decades, and thanks to DNA testing, it could be the key that unlocks this case.

“I can’t help believe that somebody does know,” Lois Lawrence said.

Lawrence’s son, Robbie Lawrence, was a teacher and business owner running for Perry County school superintendent.

Robbie Lawrence was projected to win, but the Thursday before the election, he was shot and killed in his own home with a rifle.

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New groundbreaking fingerprint test

Scientists in Newcastle could have made one of the largest leaps forward in crime scene investigation in decades.

Experts at Arro SupraNano, which is based in the Herschel Annex of Newcastle University, has created a new test that can give detailed information about a person just from one fingerprint, in minutes.

And such is the global interest in the new technique, which could save police huge amounts of time and money, that the firm is already winning awards for its work.

“A murder case could cost between £1m and £3m, with most of that in time and legwork,” said Arro’s managing director Eamonn Cooney, who describes existing fingerprinting techniques as a “pretty hitty-missy process.”

“But with this test you can say male or female, whether they are on medication, what their lifestyle is, are they taking or distributing drugs, or if they are a terrorists. And we can tell you that within minutes of a sample reaching the lab.

“If you took 100 suspects and had each of them take the test then you could narrow it down to two or three very quickly.

“Police say it has definite applications for serious crimes – murders, sexual assaults or arson.

“And we’ve even had defence attorneys in America come and ask whether they could use it to prove their clients are innocent.”

The technology behind the new powder – which its makers claim can alone improve the clarity of fingerprints by 40% – and test was first developed by Professor Frederick Rowell at Sunderland University in 2005, with Arro SupraNano founded in 2007.

After seven years of development by the firm, which employs six people, the powder launched in January and is now being sold around the world, with the patented analytic test set to go to market in the coming months.

The company recently received the Forensics and Expert Witness E Magazine’s annual product development award.

“Fingerprinting has not changed much in many years,” said Mr Cooney. “You go to a crime scene, brush with powder, lift the print with tape, take a photo and record it on a national database. But we’ve done two new things with nano particles.

“Our powder adheres much more closely to the ridges and troughs of a fingerprint, as the particles are chemically very sticky, which is really important as for comparison you’re looking for 12 to 20 points, and prints are often smudged, but you can now see the details much more clearly and there is less background staining.

“Then we decided to take it a step further because we found there is a lot of information of the fingertip itself.

“We can test for drugs, explosives or gun residue, or other substances that police might be interested in.

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Applying AFIS Case by Case

To address the recent concerns and published research regarding erroneous exclusions, the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension (MN BCA), in collaboration with 3M Cogent, Inc., conducted a study that led to the adoption of Automated Fingerprint Identification System (AFIS) technology in a novel “Case AFIS” application to reduce erroneous exclusions and catch more missed identifications. Using a Case AFIS approach, a process by which AFIS technologies were applied to specific cases, previously reported decisions were reviewed in this study for erroneous exclusions and missed identifications. This study shows that using the Case AFIS application would lead to more identifications and would be more efficient than the manual searching process.

Beginning in 2011, several articles were published demonstrating under various study conditions that fingerprint examiners make erroneous exclusions.1,2 In these studies they were seven times more likely to erroneously exclude than erroneously identify an individual. While the identification results were reassuring for many of our partners in the criminal justice community, in the forensic community the high number of erroneous exclusions was alarming. Within agencies, various policies were instituted to reduce the number of erroneous exclusions that may have been reported in case work. One of those policies was to review all identification and exclusion decisions. As a result more erroneous exclusions were discovered, and agencies became aware of the number of erroneous exclusions committed by their examiners. These errors usually resulted in a quality review, root cause analysis, and sometimes included removing examiners from case work while reviewing all of their previous work for a period of time. This creates costly repercussions for a laboratory as labor hours are expended while no new work is produced; it negatively effects morale and increases backlog accumulation.

As reviews of the root cause of erroneous exclusions began, a variety of contributing factors (human and latent-dependent) were proposed. Some agencies became proponents of implementing specific criteria that were required before examiners could render an exclusion decision.3 While none of these policies have been tested and validated in structured research, they may be effective at reducing erroneous exclusions by limiting the number of exclusion decisions that can be attempted. The MN BCA briefly explored these policies but ultimately abandoned them to return to the traditional practice of rendering exclusion decisions based on the examiner’s expertise. During this period, the idea that the best solution to the erroneous exclusion problem may not be to limit the examiners’ ability for rendering exclusion decisions but to provide a tool for catching erroneous exclusions by helping examiners quickly recognize similarities and more efficiently search difficult latent prints.

AFIS technology is the most obvious tool for this problem for several reasons. First, matching algorithms have significantly improved in the last decade to return matching candidates from databases with millions of individual records. If used in a case of narrowed donors to a database of known records of individuals directly related to the case—whether suspect, victim, or elimination—the results could only be improved. Second, AFIS technology can also be prompted to ignore level 1 information and focus solely on minutiae configuration. Third, it can quickly search any latent in 360 degrees in a single operation. This eliminates errors that can occur when examiners fail to properly orient the latent print, place too much reliance on a pattern type that has been distorted, or simply “miss” the corresponding similarities due to fatigue or inattention. AFIS technology offers a powerful remedy against the major contributing factors of examiner errors.

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FINGERPRINTS can reveal what you ate for lunch

Crime scene investigators can tell what a criminal ate and drank before they committed a crime, thanks to pioneering fingerprint technology.

The equipment can detect certain food and drink, such as garlic and coffee, as well as work out if a criminal has taken drugs.

Scientists have already used the tool to determine the sex of a criminal and are now working on it being able to test for medical conditions.

They could also use it to tell the police how long a fingerprint has been at the crime scene.

The microscopic technology is called Matrix Assisted Laser Desorption Ionisation Mass Spectrometry Imaging (MALDI-MSI) and it traces drugs, hair and cleaning products in fingerprints.

It has been developed by researchers at Sheffield Hallam University’s Biomedical Research Centre (BMRC).

The researchers are working with West Yorkshire Police, who are trialling the technology on fingerprints left at scenes of crime.

Dr Simona Francese, who led the research, said: ‘MALDI enables you to detect the chemistry of the finger marks so essentially what chemicals are present on finger marks.

‘What we can do with the technology is detect multiple species in one analysis.’

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Heartbeats may be the keys of the future

Biometric identifiers, in one form or another, have been a part of the security industry for some time. While most biometric access control solutions use a fingerprint or an iris scan to identify an individual, Toronto-based Bionym is taking a unique approach to the market with a newly launched solution called the Nymi. Unlike other biometric devices that make the user submit to a physical read of their finger or eye, the Nymi is a wearable authentication device that uses a person’s heartbeat to verify their identity.

According to Karl Martin, co-founder and CEO of Bionym, the idea of using someone’s heartbeat as a way to uniquely identify them goes back nearly 40 years. Over the past 10 years, however, he said that research groups around the world have been working to develop automated robot systems that could use electrocardiograms (ECGs) as a biometric. Researchers at the University of Toronto, including Bionym co-founder and CTO Foteini Agrafioti, recently made a breakthrough by finding an automated way of extracting features that relate to the shape of a heart wave that are unique to each person, explained Martin.

“It was a very robust method that could work in the real world. A lot of the other research in the area, they used methods that involved finding very specific points on the wave and looking at relative measures between those points. It’s very unreliable,” said Martin “The method at the University of Toronto looked at the overall shape and was not as sensitive to things like noise, which you see in real life. By looking at the overall shape and unique algorithms to extract those features, it was found that you could have a relatively reliable way to recognize people using a real world ECG signal.”

Martin, who along with Agrafioti worked on biometric, security and cryptography technologies as doctoral students at the University of Toronto, said they founded Bionym as a way to commercialize their work.

“We decided there was an opportunity to make a more complete solution with our technology,” he said. “We looked at what was happening with wearable technology and we realized that’s what we had with biometric recognition using the heart. It married very well with wearable technology and we could essentially create this new kind of product that was an authenticator that you wear rather than something embedded in a mobile phone, tablet or computer.”

Although other promising biometric technologies and companies have made a splash in the security industry only to flame out a short time later, Martin believes that the approach his company is taking sets it apart from others.

“We’re really driven by our vision, which is to enable a really seamless user experience in a way that is still very secure. So many of the security products and the biometric technologies out there – it’s almost kind of like a solution looking for a problem,” said Martin. “Somebody comes up with a new method and says, ‘oh, we can use it like this,’ but the question is what really new are you enabling? In many cases, you’re talking about access control – whether it’s physical or logical access control. Fingerprint is still sort of the most common because it’s robust, people know it, they understand it, but the other technologies haven’t really brought anything new to the table. What we’re doing with this technology and bringing something new to the table is it’s not so much in the core technology itself using the ECG, it’s the marriage of that technology in a wearable form factor.”

Because the Nymi is wearable, Martin said that identity can be communicated wirelessly in a simpler, more convenient way than what’s previously been available.

“The person only has to do something when they put the device on, so they put it on, they become authenticated and then they can essentially forget about it,” he added. “We’ve had a somewhat consumer focus because we are very focused on a convenient user experience, but we found that we actually were able to achieve almost that Holy Grail, which is convenience plus security.”

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Supreme Court upholds Maryland law, says police may take DNA samples from arrestees

A divided Supreme Court ruled Monday that police may take DNA samples when booking those arrested for serious crimes, narrowly upholding a Maryland law and opening the door to more widespread collection of DNA by law enforcement.

The court ruled 5 to 4 that government has a legitimate interest in collecting DNA from arrestees, just as it takes photographs and collects fingerprints. Rejecting the view that the practice constitutes an unlawful search, the majority said it was justified to establish the identity of the person in custody.

“DNA identification represents an important advance in the techniques used by law enforcement to serve legitimate police concerns for as long as there have been arrests,” Justice Anthony M. Kennedy wrote for the majority.

The decision will reinstate Alonzo Jay King Jr.’s conviction in a 2003 rape in Salisbury on Maryland’s Eastern Shore. He was connected to the crime after a DNA sample was taken following an unrelated 2009 arrest for assault.

Law enforcement has found DNA to be a powerful tool in solving cold cases, and the federal government and 28 states allow the practice.

As with other recent court decisions involving the Fourth Amendment’s “right of the people to be secure in their persons, ­houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures,” the justices split in an unusual fashion.

The dissenters were three of the court’s liberals plus conservative Justice Antonin Scalia, who amplified his displeasure by reading a summary of his dissent from the bench.

“The court has cast aside a bedrock rule of our Fourth Amendment law: that the government may not search its citizens for evidence of crime unless there is a reasonable cause to believe that such evidence will be found,” Scalia said from the bench.

In his dissent, Scalia wrote that the majority’s attempts to justify the use of DNA as an identification tool “taxes the credulity of the credulous.” He added, “Make no mistake about it: As an entirely predictable consequence of today’s decision, your DNA can be taken and entered into a national DNA database if you are ever arrested, rightly or wrongly, and for whatever reason.”

Scalia was joined by Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan.

Kennedy wrote that the decision was more limited than that, noting that DNA can be taken only from those suspected of “serious” crimes. He said that police have a legitimate interest in identifying the person taken into custody and that the DNA samples could make sure that a dangerous criminal is not released on bail.

“By comparison to this substantial government interest and the unique effectiveness of DNA identification, the intrusion of a cheek swab to obtain a DNA sample is a minimal one,” Kennedy wrote. Justice Stephen G. Breyer — who most often votes with Ginsburg, Sotomayor and Kagan — joined the opinion, as did Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. and Justices Clarence Thomas and Samuel A. Alito Jr.

At the oral argument in the case in February, Alito called it “perhaps the most important criminal procedure case that this court has heard in decades.”

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