Scanning babies' fingerprints: Tracking Health Care. Building a Global Database for???

Credit: Sunpreet Arora
A health official in Benin, Africa scans a 
baby's fingerprints for the vaccination database.

If you, like me, enjoy watching the many true-crime shows on television, you know that there have been some pretty amazing advances in the technology of criminology. Fingerprinting has become a staple of investigations, used to identify both suspects and victims. 

According to this story just released by Michigan State University, efforts are now underway to use the fingerprints of infants to track their immunization history.  Obviously, such a database would have other uses, including identifying criminals.  

For those concerned with civil liberties, this database will undoubtedly cause concern.   From a scientific viewpoint, we don't need to be branded with "the mark of the beast."  We already carry such marks through our individually unique DNA, retinal patterns, fingerprints and so on.  What is lacking is a database that catalogs these characteristics along with functional information such as where we live and work.  It's even possible a mega-data base could be developed that includes not only this information, but our cell phone number so that a used could identify and locate any one of us in a very short period of time.

In the fight to reduce crime and disease, such a database would be a true blessing to us all.  The question is, how else could such a database be used?  Something to think about.

Here's the report:

Each year 2.5 million children die worldwide because they do not receive life-saving vaccinations at the appropriate time.

Anil Jain, Michigan State University professor, is developing a fingerprint-based recognition method to track vaccination schedules for infants and toddlers, which will increase immunization coverage and save lives.

To increase coverage, the vaccines must be recorded and tracked. The traditional tracking method is for parents to keep a paper document. But in developing countries, keeping track of a baby's vaccine schedule on paper is largely ineffective, Jain said.

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"Paper documents are easily lost or destroyed," he said. "Our initial study has shown that fingerprints of infants and toddlers have great potential to accurately record immunizations. You can lose a paper document, but not your fingerprints."

Jain and his team traveled to rural health facilities in Benin, West Africa, to test the new fingerprint recognition system. They used an optical fingerprint reader to scan the thumbs and index fingers of babies and toddlers. From this scanned data, a schedule will be created and become a part of the vaccine registry system.

Once the electronic registry is in place, health care workers simply re-scan the child's fingers to view the vaccination schedule. They know who has been vaccinated, for what diseases and when additional booster shots are needed.

These new electronic registry systems will help overcome the lack and loss of information, which is the primary problem in the vaccine delivery system in third world nations, Jain said.

Collecting fingerprints from fidgety infants is not easy. Another challenge is their small fingerprint patterns have low contrast between ridges and valleys.

"The process can still be improved but we have shown its feasibility," Jain said. "We will continue to work on refining the fingerprint matching software and finding the best reader to capture fingerprints of young children, which will be of immense global value. We also plan to conduct a longitudinal study to ensure that fingerprints of babies can be successfully matched over time."

There will be other benefits in addition to tracking vaccinations, said Mark Thomas, executive director of VaxTrac, a nonprofit organization supporting Jain's research.

"Solving the puzzle of fingerprinting young children will have far-reaching implications beyond health care, including the development of civil registries, government benefits' tracking and education recordkeeping," Thomas said.

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Story Source:  Materials provided by Michigan State University.  Michigan State University. "Scanning babies' fingerprints could save lives through vaccination tracking." ScienceDaily, 26 September 2014
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A short history of fingerprinting:
  • 1686 ~ Marcello Malpighi, a professor of anatomy at the University of Bologna, noted the existence of ridges, spirals and loops in fingerprints. 
  • 1823 ~ John Evangelist Purkinji, a professor of anatomy at the University of Breslau, published a thesis discussing 9 fingerprint patterns.
  • 1856 ~ The English first used fingerprints in July of 1858, when Sir William Herschel, Chief Magistrate of the Hooghly district in Jungipoor, India, used fingerprints on native contracts. Sir Herschel was convinced that all fingerprints are unique to the individual.
  • 1880 ~ During the 1870's, Dr. Henry Faulds, the British Surgeon-Superintendent of Tsukiji Hospital in Tokyo, Japan, took up the study of "skin-furrows".  Dr. Faulds devised a method of classification and published an article in the scientific journal, Nature, discussing fingerprints as a means of personal identification.
  • 1882 ~ Gilbert Thompson of the U.S. Geological Survey in New Mexico, used his own fingerprints on a document to prevent forgery. 
  • 1883 ~ In Mark Twain's book, "Life on the Mississippi", a murderer is identified by the use of fingerprints. In Twain's "Pudd'n Head Wilson", there is a dramatic court trial on fingerprint identification, another case of fiction predicting real life.
  • 1888 ~  Sir Francis Galton, a British anthropologist, began his observations of fingerprints as a means of identification. In 1892, he published his book, "Fingerprints", establishing the individuality and permanence of fingerprints, including the first classification system.  According to his calculations, the odds of two individual fingerprints being the same are 1 in 64 billion.
  • 1891 ~ Juan Vucetich, an Argentine Police Official, began the first fingerprint files based on Galton pattern types. At first, Vucetich included the Bertillon System with the files. (see Bertillon below) In 1892, Juan Vucetich made the first criminal fingerprint identification. He was able to identify a woman by the name of Rojas, who had murdered her two sons, and cut her own throat in an attempt to place blame on another.
  • 1901~ Introduction of fingerprints for criminal identification in England and Wales, using Galton's observations and revised by Sir Edward Richard Henry. Thus began the Henry Classification System, used today in all English speaking countries.
  • 1902 ~ First systematic use of fingerprints in the U.S. by the New York Civil Service Commission for testing. Dr. Henry P. DeForrest pioneers U.S. fingerprinting.
  • 1903 ~ The New York State Prison system began the first systematic use of fingerprints in U.S. to identify criminals.
  • 1904 ~ The use of fingerprints introduced in Leavenworth Federal Penitentiary in Kansas, and the St. Louis Police Department. 
  • 1905 ~ The U.S. Army begins using fingerprints. Two years later the U.S. Navy adopted the practice to be joined the next year by the Marine Corp.  
  • 1918  Edmond Locard wrote that if 12 points (Galton's Details) were the same between two fingerprints, it would suffice as a positive identification.
  • 1924 ~ An act of congress establishes the Identification Division of the F.B.I., which leads to the founding of IAFIS in 1999.

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The Integrated Automated Fingerprint Identification System, or IAFIS, is a national fingerprint and criminal history system that responds to requests 24 hours a day, 365 days a year to help our local, state, and federal partners—and our own investigators—solve and prevent crime and catch criminals and terrorists. IAFIS provides automated fingerprint search capabilities, latent search capability, electronic image storage, and electronic exchange of fingerprints and responses.
IAFIS was launched on July 28, 1999. Prior to this time, the processing of ten-print fingerprint submissions was largely a manual, labor-intensive process, taking weeks or months to process a single submission.
What is included in IAFIS: Not only fingerprints, but corresponding criminal histories; mug shots; scars and tattoo photos; physical characteristics like height, weight, and hair and eye color; and aliases. The system also includes civil fingerprints, mostly of individuals who have served or are serving in the U.S. military or have been or are employed by the federal government. The fingerprints and criminal history information are submitted voluntarily by state, local, and federal law enforcement agencies.
~ U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation website


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