Little Bits of History

Fingerprints

Posted in History by patriciahysell on May 19, 2013
Fingerprint

Fingerprint

May 19, 1911: The US courts first return a conviction based on fingerprint evidence. Fingerprints are the impressions of the friction ridges of any part of a finger. They are present in primates and koalas, whose prints are remarkably humanlike. The prints are left behind when we touch susceptible items because of natural eccrine gland secretions present in the friction ridge skin. The peaks leave marks while the valleys remain blank leaving the telltale swirls on the surface of whatever we’ve touched.

The ancients also noticed the ridged patterns. In 2000 BC, the Egyptians left evidence that fingerprint identification was used while building the pyramids and 3rd Century BC China used them as identification for official documents. Persia used fingerprints for government papers by 1350. William J. Hershel (who claims first use as identification) debated whether they were true fingerprints or more or less finger marks and used for spiritual rather than identification reasons. Hershel used fingerprints in India for identification in 1858 and the method, while already discussed in the literature, spread more rapidly.

The idea of using latent (left behind) prints for criminal detection was being bandied about as early as 1880 – but the Metropolitan Police of London did not yet adopt the idea. By 1892, Sir Francis Galton published a forensic science book, Finger Print, touting the idea and in that same year Juan Vucetich, an Argentinean policeman, first used prints to catch a murderer. In 1901, the first UK Fingerprinting Bureau was founded by Scotland Yard and by 1906 fingerprinting of criminals in New York City was introduced.

While fingerprinting was a great advance at the time, it is not without criticism today. There are difficulties with the subjective nature of matches and a high failure rate when compared to DNA studies, which also have issues. Today, there are 3-D images produced by scanning Kelvin probes that look like mountainous landscapes and are more accurate. There have been some falsely accused and imprisoned people due to improper fingerprint matches and there is the questionable practice of fingerprinting all school children to form a database.

“The DNA is the fingerprint of the 21st Century, but DNA tests are only part of the solution. They are a window into the larger problems in the system, like inadequate counsel.” – Patrick Leahy

“In future, the recording of biometrics, such as fingerprints, iris patterns or facial image means that we will have a much stronger way of linking identity to the person. A national ID card will be a robust, secure way to establish that identities are real, not fabricated.” – Charles Clarke

“Dental records are a great solution. A good dental record is akin … to a good fingerprint.” – Louis Cataldie

“Rather than blindly insisting there is zero error in fingerprint matching, we should acknowledge the obvious, study the errors openly and find constructive ways to prevent faulty evidence from being used to convict innocent people.” – Simon Cole

This article first appeared at Examiner.com in 2009. Editor’s update: Sir Francis Galton was Charles Darwin’s cousin and a polymath in his own right. He was an anthropologist, eugenicist, tropical explorer, geographer, inventor, meteorologist, geneticist (such as could be in that time), psychometrician, and statistician. He was born in Birmingham, England in 1822 and went to King’s College London and Cambridge University. He coined the phrase “nature versus nurture” while studying eugenics. He was interested in the human brain and studied differential psychology and personality. He also studied the power of prayer and found it had no effect on those who were prayed for. He devised the first weather map and completed the first record of short term weather climate in Europe. He also created the Galton Whistle for testing hearing.

Also on this day Duty Calls – In 1780 the Dark Day arrives, bringing fear to many.
Longest Tunnel – In 1906, Simplon Tunnel began service.
Wilde About Douglas – In 1897, Oscar Wilde was released from jail.

Dusting for Prints

Posted in History by patriciahysell on July 28, 2010

A fingerprint

July 28, 1858: Sir William Herschel, Chief Magistrate of the Hooghly district in Jungipoor, India has Rajyadhar Konai leave an imprint of his palm on a contract to frighten him should he have any thought of repudiating the document. Sir William used the whole hand for a time and then switched to the right index and middle fingers alone as a signature.

In 1880, Dr. Henry Faulds was working in Tokyo and began the study of the finger ridges and looked at the possibility of using fingerprints left at the scene of a crime as a method of identifying the criminal. By 1892, Juan Vucetich, a police officer in Argentina, actually used this method of identifying a criminal and opened the first fingerprint bureau in the world.

In 1897, Sir Edward Henry identified a simplified fingerprint classification system that is still used in most English-speaking areas of the world. During the next century, more and more countries developed methods of storing and utilizing these fingerprints in order to capture criminals. Today, Interpol with over 180 member countries, shares fingerprint and other biometric data collected across the globe.

Even now, fingerprints must be looked at and found to be a match by two qualified experts. There are 35-50 minutiae, identification points, per fingerprint but when matching prints only 8-12 are used. Prints left behind in normal living are called “latent” prints as distinguished from comparison prints taken deliberately with inked fingers placed on fingerprinting cards.

“The DNA is the fingerprint of the 21st Century, but DNA tests are only part of the solution. They are a window into the larger problems in the system, like inadequate counsel.” – Patrick Leahy

“In future, the recording of biometrics, such as fingerprints, iris patterns or facial image means that we will have a much stronger way of linking identity to the person. A national ID card will be a robust, secure way to establish that identities are real, not fabricated.” – Charles Clarke

“The Ripper case is not one to be conclusively solved by DNA or fingerprints, … and in a way, this is good. Society has come to expect the wizardry of forensic science to solve all crimes, but without the human element of deductive skills, teamwork, very hard investigation, and smart prosecution, evidence means nothing.” – Patricia Cornwell

“We’re moving to an area where international travelers’ fingerprints are going to be part of their identifier.” – Stewart Baker

Also on this day, in 1958 Lord Jellicoe first spoke to the House of Lords after being a member for 19 years.

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