Breaking NEWz you can UzE...
compiled by Jon Stimac
Scotland's Lord Advocate Resigns
BBC NEWS, UK
- Oct 4, 2006 ...he has been caught up in
the controversy surrounding the McKie fingerprint case....
Schools Sue Over Fingerprint Law
- Oct 3, 2006
...school districts across the state have been working
to get all employees fingerprinted...
Man Arrested After Sending Finger as Threat
SYDNEY MORNING HERALD, AUSTRALIA - Oct 2, 2006 ...a
group leader in Japan was arrested for allegedly sending his finger
with a threatening letter...
CSI Baghdad: Hunting for Truth in the Combat Zone
REUTERS, UK - Oct 1, 2006
...only about 5 percent of crime scenes are ever looked at by CSI
Recent CLPEX Posting Activity
containing new posts
Moderated by Steve Everist
Red Fri Oct 06, 2006 4:57 pm
Fact Finding on the Psychology of Fingerprint Comparison
Boyd Baumgartner Thu Oct 05, 2006 12:39 pm
Anyone have good luck with "light tac" tape?
tsaur Mon Oct 02, 2006 1:47 pm
UPDATES ON CLPEX.com
San Diego Police Department is currently accepting
applications for a limited time for the full-time position of Latent
Print Examiner II. The monthly salary range is $4795 to $5795 with a
5% additional salary increase for an IAI CLPE. Qualified candidates
will possess one year of full-time experience (or part-time equivalent) and
will be a court-qualified fingerprint witness. Details are available
we looked at Part II of a two-part speech by Steve Scarborough on "Leaps
of Logic" and "False Dilemmas".
we take a look at some feedback on Steve Scarborough's article,
by David Faigman
Science & Law Blog, September 25, 2006
The Weekly Detail, a newletter for the latent fingerprint community,
reported a talk by Steve Scarborough in today's edition. The talk, the first
of two parts, was given to a large group of latent examiners. You can
subscribe to The Weekly Detail here. Since it appears to be taken from an
oral presentation, the talk rambles somewhat and is hard to appreciate from
a distance. Nonetheless, it is instructive, since it represents some of the
thinking (or lack thereof) that is going on in this community. His main
argument appears to be in response to those who doubt the "uniqueness" of
fingerprints. Along the way, he seeks to defend claims of "infallibility" in
the process of fingerprint identification, though he argues that such claims
do not mean that examiners don't make mistakes. The two issues of
uniquenenss and error rates must be kept separate, though Scarborough does
not always accomplish this well.
First of all, on the question of uniqueness. Most critics do not challenge
the uniqueness of fingerprints. It is a red-herring; it is both
scientifically uninteresting and legally irrelevant. The uniqueness of
fingerprints says absolutely nothing, NOTHING, about the ability of
examiners to reliably and validly make fingerprint identifications between
partial latent fingerprints and the known prints of a suspect or defendant.
In theory, every person's face is unique, but this fact, if it is so, does
not tell us whether reliable and valid identifications can be made when
comparing the nose and ear of an unknown person to the full face of a known
person. Empirically, the hypothesis that fingerprints are unique is separate
and largely unrelated to the hypothesis that fingerprint identifications can
be made from partial latent prints.
Please, can we all just stop talking about whether fingerprints are unique.
Nothing follows from the fact, if it is so, that they are unique. I, for
one, willingly (nay, enthusiastically), concede for the sake of all further
argument that fingerprints are unique. Now, let's move on.
The second issue presented, and the one of great legal significance, is the
error rate of latent print examination. Claims of "infallibility" pertain to
whether fingerprint examiners are 100% accurate. To his credit, Scarborough
admits that fingerprint examiners make mistakes, despite apparent comments
to the contrary:
In all the training classes and presentations and testimony, the FBI has
never once said that there are no mistakes made by fingerprint experts. In
fact the FBI, in warnings about effective verification, mentions mistakes
that they are run across in submitted cases from local agencies. The FBI has
always promoted verification, consultation and double checks to assure that
no mistakes in fingerprint identifications are made.
The fact that mistakes are possible, then, requires some level of quality
control, which might or might not be effective. It should also result in
attempts to measure the rate of those errors. On the general issue, he
states as follows:
The FBI instructors stress verification and other quality control measures.
They promote and teach verification to prevent mistakes. If people didn’t
make mistakes with regard to Fingerprints ... then we wouldn’t need
verification. But we all know that human beings make mistakes, and it goes
without saying that humans are not infallible. The assumption that when the
FBI fingerprint expert says that they are 100% certain about the ID, that
they are implying that they don’t make mistakes, is a grand leap of logic.
At the end of the above quote, the waters get muddied. Scarborough is saying
that a claim of 100% certainty by a latent print examiner is not a claim
that they are 100% accurate. Fair enough. But what, then, is the claim of
100% confidence based upon, if not some idea that the error rate associated
with the technology he or she used is "vanishingly small." Indeed, I don't
know of any bona fide scientist who would claim 100% confidence in a
technique/process/machine that itself did not have 100% accuracy. But, in
any case, how do examiners know that their error rates are so low that they
can have 100% confidence in their conclusions? It cannot be made on the
basis of the uniqueness-of-fingerprints hypothesis, since that hypothesis
has nothing to do with the hypothesis of latent examiner validity (see
above). It is not based on published research, since precious little exists.
It cannot be based on experience -- other than casual anecdote -- since no
systematic attempt has been made to catalogue errors.
So, I am very heartened to see that a prominent latent examiner has admitted
the existence of measurable error rates associated with latent fingerprint
procedures. It's about time that researchers began to actually measure those
RE: RE: Infallible
by Steve Scarborough
With regard to Mr. Faigman's comments on Uniqueness, I applaud his call to
no longer challenge uniqueness. I think it serves his agenda well to
separate this out and call it “uninteresting and legally irrelevant.”
However, uniqueness actually goes to the core of comparative examinations.
The reason that a comparative expert, be it a fingerprint examiner, firearms
expert or forensic document examiner, can conduct examinations is the issue
of uniqueness. Precisely because fingerprints are unique, is why fingerprint
comparisons can be made. However, I do agree with Mr. Faigman when he states
“fingerprints are unique.” “Now let’s move on.”
Faigman makes the same mistake that I am talking about in “Infallible, Part
1” and showing as a Leaps of Logic. For example: “Claims of infallibility
pertain to whether fingerprint examiners are 100% accurate.” I think that
if Mr. Faigman read and understood the article, he would recognize that
these two issues are separate and to combine them is a leap of logic that
does not follow facts, statements, or empirical knowledge. His
comments seem to only serve the agenda of a lawyer looking to make a point.
Mr. Faigman asks the question, “…how do examiners know that their error
rates are so low that they can have 100% confidence in their conclusions?”.
We know based upon the Billions of comparisons made over the last 100 years
and the extremely low rate of error. Even considering the flawed number
promoted by Cole that there has been 22 reported errors in 100 years; the
extrapolation of that number compared with the billions of fingerprint
comparisons and searches using AFIS computers still makes the error rate
astronomically low. In short, this confidence is based upon a large volume
of empirical evidence.
I would suggest to Mr. Faigman that he study the extremely thorough and
cogent work by Kasey, Wertheim, Glenn Langenburg, and Andre Moenssens in the
JFI, Jan/Feb issue of 2006. This article is the best examination of error
rates for fingerprint comparisons to date. This article shows that humans
are fallible, errors can and do happen, and that the examinations are only
as valid as the examiner performing the examination. The research for
the article shows the importance of confidence level and it’s relationship
to examination conclusions. The JFI article also highlights the extremely
low error rate for highly experienced examiners that follow accepted
One point I made in “Infallible, Part 1” is that while it is all well and
good to have abstract theoretical discussions by inexperienced and remotely
detached laymen about these issues, it is a whole different world than that
understood by the comparative discipline experts who are immersed in day to
day practical examinations.
Perhaps Mr. Faigman should remain "safe" within the "confines of academia"
instead of lashing out at those who valiantly brave the real world. (http://www.lawprofessors.typepad.com/science_law/he)
Feel free to pass The Detail along to other
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latent print examiners.
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Until next Monday morning, don't work too hard or too little.
Have a GREAT week!