What is Digital Fingerprinting?

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  • Written By: Malcolm Tatum
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 25 September 2019
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Also known as electronic fingerprinting, digital fingerprinting is a contemporary approach to creating images of fingerprints that can be used for purposes of identification in a number of settings. This type of resource may be used to enhance security measures at companies, government buildings, and other physical locations, as well as create a more efficient means of copyright protection and the identification of criminals involved in the commission of a specific crime. Unlike older fingerprinting techniques, modern digital fingerprints are not subject to deterioration and can be matched with various electronic records in very little time, possibly even a few seconds in some applications.

While the processes used in digital fingerprinting vary somewhat, many approaches call for using scanners that create visual images of the fingerprints. The data captured by the scanners is enhanced using software, and then permanently stored for retrieval on an as-needed basis. When there is a need to match newly created fingerprint images with other images already on file, a search is initiated, the entire database is scanned for matches, and the closest ones are returned, along with a percentage range for the match. Typically, the ideal match is one hundred percent, although some systems may return lower percentages based on factors such as the quality of the images.


Digital fingerprinting is often used as a security measure. The fingerprints of employees are scanned and stored in a local database, which is connected with scanners mounted near various exterior and interior doors. Each employee may be approved for entry into specific areas of the facility, and is able to gain that entry by placing the hand against a scanner near that entry. The scanner reads the fingerprints of the individual requesting entry, matches them with a set that is on file, and either grants or denies access, based on the individual’s security clearance.

Law enforcement also makes use of digital fingerprinting. While some locations still make use of ink and blotter paper to prepare basic fingerprints and then scan those images into an electronic database, it is increasingly common for prints of anyone who is arrested to be scanned directly into the local database. Typically, these local systems are networked through state and federal databases that make it possible to cross-reference those fingerprints with criminal records anywhere in the nation. This means that someone who is arrested in one location for a minor infraction, but is wanted for an outstanding warrant at a location across the country, can be identified as soon as his or her fingerprints are scanned in at the time of the latest arrest.

As with most forms of digital media, digital fingerprinting continues to advance as newer forms of technology emerge. Owing to the unique nature of fingerprints in general, capturing this data electronically opens the potential for using the prints in all sorts of situations where positive and accurate identification is essential. There is some expectation that digital fingerprinting may be used in the future in a number of situations that currently use name tags or even electronic ID cards as a means of confirming identity.


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