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History of Biometrics

The earliest form of Biometrics appeared on the scene back in the 1800's. Alphonse Bertillon, a Perisian anthropologist and police desk clerk, developed a method for identifying criminals that became known as Bertillonage. Bertillonage was a form of anthropometry, a system by which measurements of the body are taken for classification and comparison purposes. Bertillons system of anthropometry required numerous and percise measurements of the bony parts of a humans anatomy for identification. It also involved recording shapes of the body in relation to movements and differential markings on the surface of the body such as scars, birth marks, tattoos, etc. Bertillon estimated that the odds of duplicate records were 286,435,456 to 1 if 14 traits were used. This was the primary system of criminal identification used during the 19th century.

Bertillons system of identification was not without fault. For example, it relied heavily on precise measurements for identification purposes, and yet two people working on measurements for the same person would record different findings. The measurements taken were also only thought to be unique and accurate in adulthood. Therefore, someone who committed a crime prior to adulthood would not have their measurements on record. Additionally, it turned out to be the case that the features by which Bertillon based his identification system were not unique to any one individual. This led to the possibility of one person being convicted of another persons crimes. This possibility became abundantly clear in 1903 when a Will West was confused with a William West. Though it would later turn out to be the case that the two were identical twins, the issues posed by the Bertillonage system of identification were clear.

Because of the amount of time and effort that went in to painstakingly collecting measurements and the overall inaccuracy of the process, Bertillonage was quickly replaced when fingerprinting emerged on the scene as a more efficient and accurate means of identification. Fingerprinting, as a means of identification, proved to be infallable. It was accepted that each individual possessed a uniquely identifiable and unchanging fingerprint. This new system of identification was accepted as more reliable than Bertillonage.

Fingerprinting can be traced as far back as the 14th century in China. Though the use was most likely as a signature and the unique identification abilities of the fingerprint not entirely known. Fingerprints were first looked at as a form of criminal identification by Dr. Henry Faulds who noticed fingerprints on ancient pottery while working in Tokyo. He first published his ideas about using fingerprints as a means of identifying criminals in the scientific journal, Nature in 1880. William Herschel, while working in colonial India, also recognized the unique qualities that fingerprints had to offer as a means of identification in the late 1870's. He first began using fingerprints as a form of signature on contracts with locals. Sir Francis Galton, who had been privy to Faulds research through his uncle, Charles Darwin, would also be credited as making significant advancement to fingerprint identification. Galton ascertained that no two fingerprints were alike, not even on a set of identical twins. He noted that differentiating characteristics could be best observed in the ridge of a fingerprint and that this fingerprint would remain reliable and unchanging and could be used for identification throughout an individuals life. However, it had never been officially recognized as to which of these three men was the first to discover fingerprinting as a means of identification.

The Henry Classification system, named after Edward Henry who developed and first implemented the system in 1897 in India, was the first method of classification for fingerprint identification based on physiological characteristics. The system assigns each individual finger a numerical value (starting with the right thumb and ending with the left pinky) and divides fingerprint records into groupings based on pattern types. The system makes it possible to search large numbers of fingerprint records by classifying the prints according to whether they have an "arch," "whorl," or "loop" and the subsequently assigned numerical value. In 1901 the Henry system was introduced in England. In 1902 the New York Civil service began testing the Henry method of fingerprinting with the the Army, Navy, and Marines all adopting the method by 1907. From this point on, the Henry System of fingerprinting became the system most commonly used in English speaking countries.

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Page last modified: 13-07-2011 12:50:46 ZULU