This research paper is devoted to the history of fingerprinting. The objective of this paper is to discuss a row of items related to fingerprint analysis. They include the beginning of fingerprinting and its evolution through time; significant contributions to the evolution of fingerprinting; methods of print development and materials for them; fingerprint classification systems and their applications in the criminal justice system; the importance of fingerprinting and its use in law enforcement authorities at local, state, and federal levels. Also, AFIS and IAFIS are viewed as ways to arrest and prosecute criminals. The relevance of fingerprint science to forensics and justice systems is proven at the end of the paper.


The history of fingerprints is rather long and has been told and retold for many centuries and in various ways. Every person is singled out from everyone else in the world owing to prominent skin features that they have on the palm side of their hands and on the soles of their feet. These features are present in dermal ridge skin. When the skin comes into contact with objects, it leaves impressions of its shapes. Fingerprints are the impressions from the last finger phalanxes. They also may be called dactylograms. The impressions of all fingers might slightly be alike, but the combination of fingerprints on both hands remains unique.

Fingerprints were used for different purposes throughout their history. Nowadays, the major purpose of fingerprints is to identify individuals, and this identification role is an invaluable tool worldwide. The ways of developing fingerprints are no less valuable factor for qualitative fingerprinting and, therefore, more accurate identification. Such accuracy is needed, as criminal justice systems use dactylograms for identifying, capturing, and prosecuting criminals.

Fingerprinting History

It is recorded that fingerprints were taken a long time ago; however, the purposes and methods of taking them significantly differed from the modern ones. In ancient Babylon, finger impressions on clay were used for recording business deals and transactions. In China, fingerprints were made with the help of ink and paper and used for commerce and, in addition, for identifying their kids.

However, for the first time, fingerprints were used as a particular way of identifying criminals only two centuries ago. In 1858, Sir William Herschel, a British Chief Magistrate who worked in Jungipoor, India, in order to reduce fraud, made Indians record their fingerprints when signing contracts (“Key Dates in the History of Fingerprinting”, n.d.).

In several years, in Japan, Henry Faulds found the fingerprints on aged pieces of clay and started investigating them. This discovery became the ground of fingerprint science for identifying criminals by the fingerprints, using printer’s ink. Faulds was the first who tried to develop a classification system for fingerprints. However, his research was not enough, and Francis Galton was of great help.

“Francis Galton, an English scientist, collected measurements on people around the world. He started to collect fingerprints and after all gathered around 8000 different samples to analyze. In 1892, Galton published a book called “Fingerprints”, in which he outlined a fingerprint classification system – the first in existence” (“How Fingerprinting Works. History of Fingerprinting”, n.d.). Patterns of loops, whorls, and arches served as a base to this system.

At the same time, another version of a fingerprinting system was being developed by Juan Vucetich who worked as a police officer in Argentina. He was the first to have made fingerprint identification from a crime scene for investigation. It is worth indicating that many Spanish-speaking countries still use this system, which the police officer called a comparative dactyloscopy.

One of the major contributors to the developing of fingerprinting through time was Edward Henry. Working as a commissioner in the Metropolitan Police of London, he took a great interest in using fingerprints to arrest criminals. In 1896, with the help of two Police Officers, he created a “simplified classification system for police use, which was based on the direction, flow, pattern and other characteristics of the friction ridges in fingerprints” (“How Fingerprinting Works. History of Fingerprinting”, n.d.). These characteristics would be turned into classifications and equations through which one person’s print could be distinguished from another’s. The Henry Classification System became the basic technique of fingerprint classification, replacing the Bertillon system.

In several years, the first Fingerprint Bureau was established in Scotland Yard. Then English courts started to present fingerprints as proof for criminal affairs. In addition, the use of fingerprints was adopted by the New York state prisons and then the FBI.

The Henry classification system finally made it possible for law enforcement officials to identify and classify individual fingerprints. Despite its efficiency, the system was very slow and complicated. When detectives received the fingerprints, they would have to compare them by hand with the fingerprints on file for a particular criminal (that is if the person had a record). The process took much time and was not always successful. By the 1970s, with the invention of computers, the FBI realized the need for automation of classifying, searching, and matching the processes involving fingerprints. The Japanese National Police Agency paved the way for this automation, establishing the first electronic fingerprint matching system in the 1980s (“How Fingerprinting Works. Modern Fingerprinting Techniques”, n.d.). This system finally enabled law authorities around the world to cross-check dactylograms with millions of fingerprint records almost immediately.

Digital fingerprints are collected in AFIS with the help of devices that react to light, heat, pressure, etc. Computer software searches for minutiae points and patterns (based on Henry’s system) to find the most resembling fingerprints in its database.

The first AFIS in the US was more rapid than previous systems, which implied manual work. Yet, reconciliation did not occur between various agencies. As many federal, state and local authoritative departments were not linked to the same AFIS, they were not able to share information. It means that if a person was taken in San Francisco, and his prints were on file at a police station in Chicago, California police officers might not have been able to find the fingerprint record.

In order to overcome this difficulty, Integrated AFIS (IAFIS) was introduced in 1999. This system is maintained by the FBI’s Criminal Justice Information Services Division (“How Fingerprinting Works. Modern Fingerprinting Techniques”, n.d.). Thus, fingerprints can be categorized, searched, and retrieved from any corner of the country in as little as half an hour. It also contains criminal histories and mug shots on several million people. IAFIS permits federal, state, and local authority agencies to use the same extremely large information database. The IAFIS works on a twenty-four-hour basis, the whole year-round.

However, criminal checks are not the only purpose of IAFIS. The system also clusters fingerprints for social services programs employment, and licenses. Taking into account all these purposes altogether, it is noted that the proportion of people in the country who have a dactylogram record on IAFIS is one to six.

Despite the fact that modern technologies are being improved and enhanced rapidly, fingerprinting is still used as an old detective’s trick.

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Developments of Fingerprints

Development of latent fingerprints may be achieved with a wide variety of optical, physical, and chemical processes, most of which have evolved through the time since it started to be used.

Latent print powders, Ninhydrin and its analogs, 1,8-Diazafluoren-9-one (DFO), 1,2-Indanedione, 5-Methylthioninhydrin (5-MTN), cyanoacrylate fuming, fluorescence examination, and vacuum metal deposition may be used for developing fingerprints (Yamashita & French, n.d.).

One of the oldest and most widely used methods of latent print detection is visualization with powder. Such a technique implies the application of powder particles that physically cleave to the water and oily components in the latent print residue. The most commonly used powder is carbon black. It is known as a versatile and effective powder.

Ninhydrin and its analogs are used for detecting those fingerprints that are produced by the trace of perspiration from the fingers when they contact with a surface. Sweat contains some amino acids, and ninhydrin reacts with them very well. As one of many chemicals that react with nonspecific amino acids, ninhydrin is highly suitable for fingerprint development. This technique of print development requires heat and humidity.

1,8-Diazafluoren-9-one (DFO) is an indirect analog of ninhydrin. Thus, its structure and the outcome of its reactions with amino acids are quite similar to those of ninhydrin. The reaction with this chemical must be conducted in a dry environment with low humidity because moisture interferes with the development reaction.

1,2-Indanedione is also a close analog of ninhydrin, therefore, its reaction with amino acids is similar. Development with this chemical shows more fingerprints than DFO, ninhydrin, or the DFO-ninhydrin. The indanedione-DFO sequence is capable of visualizing even more latent fingerprints than 1,2-indanedione alone. 5-Methylthioninhydrin (5-MTN) is used for detecting latent fingerprints along with the chemicals that were mentioned above.

CA fuming is a proven and effective method of developing latent print impressions containing eccrine and sebaceous residues and has been in use since the late 1970s. It is recommended to be done shortly after fingerprint deposition for maximum results.

There are also DNA fingerprints, although this term is a misnomer in a true sense. DNA fingerprint cannot be compared with latent fingerprint, as the former is not as specific as a fingerprint. However, it is widely used in the criminal justice system for identifying criminals.

Current Applications of Fingerprint Development to the Criminal Justice System

Fingerprints that are found at the crime scenes are relevant as valuable evidence. Fingerprint identification is also known as individualization. It identifies personal patterns that specialists use in order to affirm or deny the connection of a suspect with objects that are found at a crime scene.

Nation’s criminal justice system operates successfully if fingerprint analysis is performed on a high-quality level. Dactyloscopy is an important part of criminal investigations, as impressions are used for personal identification. Thus, law enforcement agencies utilize the forensic science of fingerprints, footprints, and palmprints in support of their investigations to positively identify criminals.

Friction ridge impression examinations have been used in the United States, as well as worldwide, since the early 1900s (Moensses & Meagher, n.d.). Latent fingerprints should be meaningful and useful is assisting the court in determining guilt or innocence. That is why dactylograms must undergo both collectively and individually an array of procedures during the analysis with the legal requirements.

DNA fingerprinting is practically applied to such areas as paternity testing, genealogy tracing, and law enforcement. It is proven that blood, hair, and semen samples enable the criminal justice system to identify a person, being used as an effective means for gathering evidence.

The Use of AFIS and IAFIS to Capture and Prosecute Criminals

“The Integrated Automated Fingerprint Identification System, or IAFIS, is a national fingerprint and criminal history system that responds to requests 24 hours a day. 365 days a year to help local, state, and federal partners – and investigators – solve and prevent crime and catch criminals and terrorists” (“Integrated Automated Fingerprint Identification System”, n.d.). Latent search and automated fingerprint search capabilities and electronic interchange between fingerprints and responses from electronic image storage are provided by AFIS.

When the police arrest individuals and put them into jail, these individuals are fingerprinted. It is a part of the identification process. Fortunately, there is no need for messy inks anymore. Persons’ fingers and palms are pressed to a glass plate on the scanning terminal. There is a scanner below, which transmits the information of the prints onto the plate. An identification technician checks the prints for quality control in the identification section to which the information is electronically transferred.

After the prints are checked on the AFIS verification station, the information about them is transmitted to the AFIS, where the fingerprints are compared to those that are collected in a database. It takes a few minutes AFIS to return information on the three closest concurrences to the print that is searched. The known prints of the arrested person are compared to those that are received from AFIS. It helps determine an active warrant or a previous arrest of a person, and moreover, a person’s ability to provide false identifying information.

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The evolution of the fingerprint science application still takes place. In order to expand the forensic aspect of fingerprints, many more inventions were made. With the evolution of technology, many law agencies all over the world have been banking on AFIS for a fast fingerprint search database. It replaced the old card search system, which was unbelievably slow.

Time and new inventions push fingerprint science forward to use more innovative devices for developing impressions. Nevertheless, widely known methods continue to be utilized.

Fingerprinting and individualization are still the keys to investigating criminal cases and will always remain the rudiment of forensic science and crime-solving. Despite the fact that technological advances make DNA testing more dependable and less difficult to obtain, the prominence of fingerprints is still agitated. On the one hand, it is slightly plausible for dactyloscopy to become one day obsolete, as new methods take its place. However, on the other hand, fingerprints’ importance in crime science will never be disregarded because of its own extraordinary manner. It is known that some people, such as twins, may share the same DNA, but there is no possibility that two people with the same fingerprints exist. This difference between DNA and latent fingerprinting is essentially critical to the criminal justice system. The FBI and other law enforcement agencies may take an innocent person for a criminal basing only on DNA testing for individualization. In order to avoid such situations, latent fingerprinting should continue its existence no matter what.

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