Fingerprint Fingerprint Graphic


Fingerprint identification is one of the most well-known and publicized biometrics. Because of their uniqueness and consistency over time, fingerprints have been used for identification for more than a century, more recently becoming automated (i.e., a biometric) due to advancements in computing capabilities. Fingerprint identification is popular because of the inherent ease in acquisition, the numerous sources (10 fingers) available for collection, and their established use and collections by law enforcement and immigration.


The practice of using fingerprints as a method of identifying individuals has been in use since the late 19th century when Sir Francis Galton defined some of the points or characteristics from which fingerprints can be identified. More information (pdf)



A fingerprint usually appears as a series of dark lines that represent the high, peaking portion of the friction ridge skin, while the valleys between these ridges appears as white space and are the low, shallow portion of the friction ridge skin. More information (pdf)


A variety of sensor types — optical, capacitive, ultrasound, and thermal — are used for collecting the digital image of a fingerprint surface. More information (pdf)


The two main categories of fingerprint matching techniques are minutiae-based matching and pattern matching. More information (pdf)

United States Government Evaluations

As mandated by the Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism (USA Patriot) Act and the Enhanced Border Security Act, National Institue of Standards and Technology (NIST) managed the Fingerprint Vendor Technology Evaluation to evaluate the accuracy of fingerprint recognition systems. More information (pdf)

Standards Overview

Currently ongoing at the national and international levels, fingerprints standards development is an essential element in fingerprint recognition because of the vast variety of algorithms and sensors available on the market. More information (pdf)

Notable U.S. Government Fingerprint Programs

Fast Capture of Rolled-Equivalent Fingerprints and Palmprints

Fast Capture, a multi-agency government initiative, is expanding fingerprint and palm research, challenging industry to develop and demonstrate technology to capture 10 rolled-equivalent fingerprints in less than 15 seconds and/or both palm prints in less than one minute. More information (pdf)

Integrated Automatic Fingerprint Identification System (IAFIS)

Maintained by the FBI Criminal Justice Information Services (CJIS) Division, IAFIS contains more than 61 million subjects. System capabilities include automated tenprint and latent fingerprint searches, electronic image storage, and electronic exchanges of fingerprints and responses. More information (pdf)

NIST Special Publication 800-76

NIST Special Publication 800-76, “Biometric Data Specification for Personal Identity Verification,” contains specifics for acquiring, formatting, and storing fingerprint images; templates for collecting and formatting facial images; and specifications for biometric devices used to collect and read fingerprint images. More information (pdf)

United States Visitor and Immigrant Status Indicator Technology (US-VISIT)

The US-VISIT program is the centerpiece of the United States government’s efforts to transform our nation’s border management and immigration systems in a way that meets the needs and challenges of the 21st century. More information (pdf)


For more than a century, fingerprints have been one of the most highly used methods for human recognition; automated biometric systems have only been available in recent years. The determination and commitment of the fingerprint industry, government evaluations and needs, and organized standards bodies have led to the next generation of fingerprint recognition, which promises faster and higher quality acquisition devices to produce higher accuracy and more reliability. Because fingerprints have a generally broad acceptance with the general public, law enforcement, and the forensic science community, they will continue to be used with many governments’ legacy systems and will be utilized in new systems for evolving applications that require a reliable biometric.

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