Michigan State researchers have found a way to reproduce fingerprints with a printer. The police were then able to use the fingerprints to unlock a murder victim's cell phone, recent news reports say.
This technological advance gives police a valuable tool to investigate crimes. At the same time, it raises concerns about the security of smartphones and the reliability of fingerprint evidence.
In this recent murder investigation, biometrics researchers at Michigan State University (MSU) took fingerprints they received from the police and digitally enhanced them to create a quality print. They tried a 3D version first but ended up using a 2D version they enhanced with a computer. The enhanced print was able to fool the phone's censors and opened the phone.
MSU professor Anil Jain said the results show a weakness in smartphone authentication systems. Jain had become known for his work in fingerprint recognition software, and the detectives involved thought it would be worth a try to contact him.
He accepted the challenge, and it took several weeks for him to succeed. Jain was quoted by NPR as saying the fingerprint models would have to be able to conduct electricity, just as the human fingerprints do.
What Will This Technological Advance Mean In The Criminal Justice System?
This is the first time police have used such technology. The police had contacted several technical companies and were repeatedly told there was no technology that would do the job. With the Michigan State research, it seems the technology exists now.
Obviously, this is a great benefit to law enforcement when it comes to solving crimes, but one has to wonder if it could potentially be used to commit crimes as well. Will criminals eventually be able to leave fake fingerprints as misleading evidence?
And what does this mean for those accused of crimes? Will we eventually see an increase in the number of individuals who are wrongly convicted of crimes they never committed - all because of computer-enhanced fingerprint models that may or may not be accurate? Only the future will tell.