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This paper examines the extent to which data support the source attributions made by fingerprint examiners. It challenges the assumption that each person’s fingerprints are unique, but finds that evidence of persistence of an individual’s fingerprints is better founded. The use of the AFIS (Automatic Fingerprint Identification System) is problematic, because the algorithms used are proprietary. Additionally, the databases used in conjunction with AFIS are incomplete and not public. Finally, and most crucially, the finding of similarities between the mark found at a crime scene and a fingerprint on file does not permit estimation of the number of persons in a given population who share those characteristics. Consequently, there is no scientific basis for a source attribution; whether phrased as a “match,” as “individualization” or otherwise.
This article is published as Kadane, Joseph B. "Fingerprint science." The Annals of Applied Statistics 12, no. 2 (2018): 771-787. Posted with permission of CSAFE.