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What is Fingerprint Technology?

By Jessica Reed
Updated May 16, 2024
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Fingerprint technology uses a person's fingerprints to identify him through fingerprint scanning. This technology is used not only in security systems, but also in the field of forensic science and crime scene investigations. It can even be found on gadgets found in the home, such as certain laptop computers.

Each individual has a different set of fingerprints from every other individual in the world. This is often referred to as a biometric fingerprint. Biometrics is the study of how humans differ from each other based on biological factors, such as how each person's fingerprints form differently. Even identical twins do not share the exact same set of fingerprints. A person's fingerprints are like an identification card.

To use a fingerprint scanner, the person places his hand or finger onto the scanner. The machine then scans the fingertips to generate a picture of the tiny lines and ridges that make up the fingerprint. It puts together a detailed image of this fingerprint and stores it for later use. The fingerprint is connected to the name of the person for future reference.

Optical fingerprint scanners use small points of light, much like a home video camera does, to record the fingerprint. A capacitive scanner uses an electrical current to create the image. Both send out a certain type of signal, light or electrical, which records a tiny part of the fingerprint. After the entire fingerprint is recorded, all the tiny parts are put together to form a whole picture.

In investigating a crime, investigators search for latent fingerprints. Latent fingerprints are any prints left behind that cannot be seen by the naked eye. Typically a fingerprint will not be obvious, but anything the criminal touched with his bare hands will have a fingerprint on it. Investigators use dusting, among other methods, to find and collect fingerprints for later identification. Later on they can compare the fingerprints they collected with the fingerprints of the list of suspects.

Security is another area where fingerprint technology comes into play. Using fingerprint scanners, security systems can allow or deny access to a computer or a door by scanning a person's finger. It compares this scan to the database of authorized fingerprints, and if there is no match then the person does not get access.

The drawback to fingerprint technology is the cost. While smaller systems are dropping in price, the cost of installing a security system for a large company that depends entirely on fingerprint technology would become expensive. Currently certain areas may use the technology while others stick with traditional methods.

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Discussion Comments

By kylee07drg — On Apr 29, 2012

I am thankful for fingerprint technology. Because of it, an investigator was able to find the guy who broke into my friend's home and terrorized her for hours.

He had broken in to steal a few things, but he decided to stay awhile and order her around. He thought it was fun to hold her at gunpoint and see how scared she was. She really believed he was going to kill her.

All he left behind were a few fingerprints, but that was enough to convict him. She had never met this man before in her life, so there was no other reason for his prints to be in her house.

Luckily, he had been convicted of theft before, so his fingerprints were already in the database. This made getting a conviction so easy.

By lighth0se33 — On Apr 29, 2012

@OeKc05 – I remember those days, too. I'm really glad that fingerprint technology has advanced so much over the years, because I believe it has led to a lot more criminals being properly identified and put behind bars!

It's cool how they can enter a fingerprint into a computer and have it scan thousands of suspects so quickly for a match. This is so much more efficient than studying a few prints with your own eyes.

Also, it allows a much broader pool of suspects to be examined. Criminals don't usually stay in the same state where they committed a crime, so having a nationwide fingerprint database that can be quickly accessed is essential.

By orangey03 — On Apr 28, 2012

My sister works in a government office, and she has high security clearance. To enter certain restricted areas of the building, she has to place her fingertips on a scanner.

She took me to the highest floor that I could legally visit in her building, and she showed me how the fingerprint recognition technology worked. She placed her fingers on some type of computer screen attached to the wall, and like magic, it lit up green and opened the door for her.

Obviously, I couldn't go through the door with her, but I really had just wanted to see the fingerprint scanner in action. It was so much like a show on TV that it didn't seem real.

By OeKc05 — On Apr 28, 2012

I remember when fingerprints were taken by pressing a person's fingertips in ink and rolling them across paper. Fingerprint technology has come a long way since I was a kid.

When I was in first grade, the local police came to my school to take fingerprints of every child. They would use them as a way of identifying us if we ever came up missing.

It was a scary thought, but I did feel better knowing that my fingerprints were on file. I think that back then, an expert would have to visually compare the inked paper with our actual fingers or prints left behind somewhere, rather than consulting a computer database.

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