Where are my fingerprints?

(don’t say on the tips of my fingers)

In '88 I registered and received a CWP (concealed weapons permit ) to carry a firearm in Washington State. Part of the registration was an FBI “background check” which was just a paper form for my personal info and my fingerprints along the bottom.

I figure these days things like this are scanned into a computer and placed on file. In 1988 computer scanning and data storage were not up to todays standards. I would guess if my prints were scanned into a data file, the resolution would have been somewhat low to save space and CPU power.

Have prints of that age been entered into data files? Do they have to keep scanning past prints to keep up with better technology? Did my prints get scanned into some old system, that for one reason or another, can not be used today?

I understand there a giant nationwide database that contains fingerprints but how far back does this database go? 70’s? 60’s?

I’ve wondered the same thing about my fingerprints, which were taken when I was arrested in a small upstate New York town back in 1977. At that time I recall being told that copies would be sent to Albany (the state capital), Washington, DC, and the county seat where I lived.

I imagine the system then was even cruder than eleven years later, probably something akin to the way the AP or UPI transmitted photographs at the time.

There was and I assume still is a gigantic card catalog of every fingerprint that was ever acquired by the FBI. Now the fingerprints are digitized and categorized electronically and stored in an FBI file as well as assorted state and local agencies. i.e. state police, state BI, and local law envorcement.

If you have ever had your fingerprints taken, NOW is NOT the time to launch a criminal career!

I talked to a King County Sheriff today and he says they are sent to the State Patrol headquarters in Olympia. They are checked with the FBI and if all is clear, it is microfiched and the card is tossed. Unless you are suspected of a crime, the sheriff said it is highly unlikely the prints will ever be used.

Dang. :smack:

On this same note, I’ve a question.

The place that I work, as a contractor, is a LARGE investment house. As part of the employment screening that happened after I arrived, they took my fingerprints, and checked them against some database or another, to see if I had lied on the “Have you been convicted of a crime?” question on the employment paperwork. Apparently, I have not been registered in any databases as a criminal, and my prints did not match anything out there (as I’d expect, as I’ve never been caught in any mischief :smiley: ).

Did these finger prints get entered into the national system? I know they wouldn’t pull as having a record now, but would they be in the “informational system?” Would my prints come up during a crime scene investigation, if they were found there?

For the record, I’m not worried about any of that, I keep my nose pretty clean, but I’m curious…


How about me? I entered the Army back in 1995. I vaguely remember having my fingerprints taken. Where would they have ended up?

If you guys could hurry with an answer that would be great 'cause I gotta do this one thing with guy this weekend and I need to know if I need to buy gloves or not.

I’m fairly sure that any fingerprints taken for the Feds or for law-enforcement agencies wind up in the FBI’s database, Amp.

So buy those gloves. :smiley:

The FBI’s digitized method of searching for fingerprints is far faster than the manual method where people sit and scan through photographs to match prints. The manual method normally has run weeks behind.

However, the digitized method is lower in resolution, ie, similar prints can be more easily confused. This is especially likely to happen with partial prints from a crime scene being scanned against the zillion stored prints in the FBI’s digital files. This has occurred. Other errors occur also.

The uniqueness of a fingerprint has never been scientifically established by science, and it appears questionable.

Try some science here, or Michael Specter in The New Yorker ("job applicants whose fingerprints are entered into the system – they could be day-care workers, casino staff, federal employees – "), these cases, the fingerprint magazine Detail, and further references available at " +fingerprints +reliability " on google.
So hey, feeling lucky today?

What amazed me when I recently had my fingerprints taken (part of my job), is how hard it is to do well.

As part of security clearances I have had my fingerprints taken several times. Security folks are known to have absolutely zero sense of humor and zero sense of trust. Guess it comes with the job. Anyway…

For the first time, the tech used an electronic scanner that actually checked the print quality. That is, not only was the print taken electronically, no ink and cards any more, but the quality of the scan was actually checked by the machine. It took several tries before this high-end machine, with a willing customer and an experienced tech, got all the prints acceptably. Makes me certain that the vast majority of fingerprint cards out there are pretty useless.

BTW, to those folks interested in such things. The tech told me that secretaries are almost impossible to fingerprint. They don’t have any. The abrasives in paper (there to make it easier to write on) wear off the ridges.

[EvilGuy] Note to self: Dang it, next time use secretary for extortion note, safe cracking, murder, etc.

Sounds like nonsense to me. There are plenty of non-secretary occupations that involve heavy wear on the fingertips.

I find that my fingerprints are work away by writing with a pen for an extended period of time, leaving the finger tips shiny and smooth. Of course this doesn’t effect all of the fingertips but I don’t think it would be that hard for someone to wear away all their fingertips at least in the short term. Still, easier to buy that pair of gloves.

I assume this (fingerprint records being passed on to the FBI database) is also true for us kids who got fingerprinted by Mr. Friendly Cop at the fair in case we were ever abducted, or was that a strictly local thing?

rbroome, that’s interesting information to know… guess the days of purple/black ink pads and smeary fingerprints are over?

In general, I think those kids that were fingerprinted for that use were not entered into the system. The record was given to the parents for use in case of The Worst. That’s how it was in MA during the 80’s/90’s.

First of all, fingerprints are not digitized. They are encoded using a system that breaks down the shape and number of repetitions of whorls and ridges. This encoding system is what the computers use to compare prints, CSI dramatizations notwithstanding (the computer animations depicting fingerprint matching is about as faithful to fact as most other Hollywood computer tricks). If a match is found, the microfiche on file with the FBI or other agency is pulled and compared to the new print visually. Encoding prints is not trivial and requires a good clean printing, hence the level of skill required for those who print people.

All that said, the system is prone to failures and a numerical match is not supposed to be used as evidence. Only after the prints are visually matched should this information presented as such. In a proper investigation, the numeric match would be used to get a warrant for new prints from the suspect for a more definitive matching process.