This paper will discuss the impact which Automated Fingerprint Identification Systems (AFIS) has had on criminal investigations. AFIS is a computer system for matching fingerprints taken at the scene of a crime with fingerprints which are on file in a computerized database. This is a much faster and more accurate method of fingerprint matching than the former method of searching manually through catalogued sets of prints. Furthermore, the AFIS can search through a far greater number of fingerprints than was ever possible in the past, which is extremely helpful in criminal investigations. This paper will show that Automated Fingerprint Identification Systems represent one of the most important breakthroughs in law enforcement technology in recent times.
The use of fingerprints to identify criminals was pioneered by investigators at Scotland Yard at the turn of the century (Elmer-De Witt, 1985, p. 96). This emerging technology pushed law enforcement capabilities into the modern era, and gave criminal investigators one of the most meaningful tools they had ever encountered for solving crimes. However, once the fingerprint identification system was arrived at and put to use, further development of the process was slow. In fact, prior to the 1960's, procedures for identifying fingerprints had changed very little since the development of the Henry Classification System at the turn of the century (Fjetland, 1989, p. 20).
In the 1960's, Pierre Thibault of the French National Police began to develop a new system which was "used to search fingerprints against a small, experimental data base" ("What is an AFIS?" 1989, p. 26). In 1967, the United States National Bureau of Standards and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) worked together to develop "the minutiae-based AFIS," from the ideas developed by Thibault (p. 26). This is the system most widely used today for fingerprint searches.
The word "minutiae" refers to small d...