United States databases and compression In the United States, the FBI manages a fingerprint identification system and database called the Integrated Automated Fingerprint Identification System, or IAFIS, which currently holds the fingerprints and criminal records of over 51 million criminal record subjects and over 1.5 million civil (non-criminal) fingerprint records. US Visit currently holds a repository of the fingerprints of over 50 million people, primarily in the form of two-finger records. In 2008, US Visit hoped to have changed over to a system recording FBI-standard ten-print records.

Most American law enforcement agencies use Wavelet Scalar Quantization (WSQ), a wavelet-based system for efficient storage of compressed fingerprint images at 500 pixels per inch (ppi). WSQ was developed by the FBI, the Los Alamos National Lab, and the National Institute for Standards and Technology (NIST). For fingerprints recorded at 1000 ppi spatial resolution, law enforcement (including the FBI) uses JPEG 2000 instead of WSQ. 

Fingerprint identification, known as dactyloscopy, or hand print identification, is the process of comparing two instances of friction ridge skin impressions (see Minutiae), from human fingers, the palm of the hand or even toes, to determine whether these impressions could have come from the same individual. The flexibility of friction ridge skin means that no two finger or palm prints are ever exactly alike in every detail; even two impressions recorded immediately after each other from the same hand. Fingerprint identification, also referred to as individualization, involves an expert, or an expert computer system operating under threshold scoring rules, determining whether two friction ridge impressions are likely to have originated from the same finger or palm (or toe or sole).

An intentional recording of friction ridges is usually made with black printer's ink rolled across a contrasting white background, typically a white card. Friction ridges can also be recorded digitally using a technique called Live Scan. A "latent print" is the chance recording of friction ridges deposited on the surface of an object or a wall. Latent prints are invisible to the naked eye, whereas "patent prints" or "plastic prints" are viewable with the un-aided eye. Latent prints are often fragmentary and require chemical methods, powder, or alternative light sources in order to be made clear. Sometimes an ordinary bright flashlight will make a latent print visible.

When friction ridges come into contact with a surface that will take a print, material that is on the friction ridges such as perspiration, oil, grease, ink or blood, will be transferred to the surface. Factors which affect the quality of friction ridge impressions are numerous. Pliability of the skin, deposition pressure, slippage, the material from which the surface is made, the roughness of the surface and the substance deposited are just some of the various factors which can cause a latent print to appear differently from any known recording of the same friction ridges. Indeed, the conditions surrounding every instance of friction ridge deposition are unique and never duplicated. For these reasons, fingerprint examiners are required to undergo extensive training. The scientific study of fingerprints is called dermatoglyphics. 


Fingerprint image acquisition is considered to be the most critical step in an automated fingerprint authentication system, as it determines the final fingerprint image quality, which has a drastic effect on the overall system performance. There are different types of fingerprint readers on the market, but the basic idea behind each is to measure the physical difference between ridges and valleys. All the proposed methods can be grouped into two major families: solid-state fingerprint readers and optical fingerprint readers.

The procedure for capturing a fingerprint using a sensor consists of rolling or touching with the finger onto a sensing area, which according to the physical principle in use (optical, ultrasonic, capacitive or thermal) captures the difference between valleys and ridges. When a finger touches or rolls onto a surface, the elastic skin deforms. The quantity and direction of the pressure applied by the user, the skin conditions and the projection of an irregular 3D object (the finger) onto a 2D flat plane introduce distortions, noise and inconsistencies in the captured fingerprint image.

These problems result in inconsistent, irreproducible and non-uniform irregularities in the image. During each acquisition, therefore, the results of the imaging are different and uncontrollable. The representation of the same fingerprint changes every time the finger is placed on the sensor plate, increasing the complexity of any attempt to match fingerprints, impairing the system performance and consequently, limiting the widespread use of this biometric technology. 


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