The Evolution and Use of Fingerprints for Identification

TLDR Fingerprints have been used for identification purposes for thousands of years, and in the modern era, they have become a crucial tool for law enforcement agencies. However, while fingerprints are generally reliable, there have been cases of wrongful arrests based on faulty matches, and some individuals have a rare genetic condition that results in the absence of fingerprints.

Timestamped Summary

00:00 Fingerprints are unique identifiers that have evolved to improve grip and tactile sensitivity, and have been used for centuries as a way to catch criminals.
01:58 Fingerprints have been used for identification purposes for thousands of years, with evidence of their use dating back to ancient Babylon and China.
03:47 In the 17th century, the major components of fingerprints were identified, and in the 1880s, the modern use of fingerprints began with a Scottish doctor solving a crime using fingerprints and conducting an experiment to prove their uniqueness.
05:35 In the early 20th century, fingerprints became widely used for tracking criminals and linking suspects to crime scenes, but the challenge of matching prints found at crime scenes with those already in the system became increasingly difficult as the number of collected fingerprints grew.
07:25 In 1999, the United States Federal Bureau of Investigation launched the Integrated Automated Fingerprint Identification System (IAFIS), a giant database of fingerprints that law enforcement agencies could search, allowing for criminal searches to be conducted in less than two hours and civil searches in about 24 hours, but despite their usefulness, fingerprints are not always perfect, as demonstrated by the case of Brandon Mayfield who was wrongfully arrested and held for two weeks based on a fingerprint match from a crime scene in Madrid, despite being nowhere near the location at the time.
09:08 Different types of fingerprint scanners include optical scanners, capacitive or CMOS scanners, ultrasonic scanners, and thermal scanners, with capacitive scanners being the most accurate; while capacitive fingerprint readers on smartphones have limitations, fingerprint scanners are still useful for security purposes, especially when used in conjunction with other methods, and there is a rare genetic condition called adermatoglyphia that results in people lacking fingerprints.
10:50 A rare genetic condition called adermatoglyphia, which results in people lacking fingerprints, is sometimes referred to as "immigration delay disease" because it often causes long delays at airport immigration controls.
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