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Pointing a Finger toward Standardized and Automated Biometrics

Muhammad Khurram , Southwest Jiaotong University, China
Jiashu , Southwest Jiaotong University, China

Pages: pp. 73-75

P. Komarinski et al., Automated Fingerprint Identification Systems (AFIS), Elsevier, 2005, $69.95, 312 pp., ISBN 0-12-418351-4.

Biometrics is a cutting-edge personal identification and verification technology, which uses a person's characteristics—physiological, behavioral, or both—to distinguish that individual from others. Biometrics systems can identify an individual on the basis of that person's fingerprints, face, iris, retina, hand geometry, signature, or gestures.

Among the many possible biometrics characteristics, fingerprints have been widely studied and deployed for identification since the late 1800s. Fingerprints are unique, undeniable, and unchangeable evidence of a person's identity. Each person has 10 fingers, unique tokens associated with his or her identity, and no two identical fingerprints have ever been found. Because of the surge of interest in biometrics systems, resulting in part from world events, automated fingerprint identification systems have, in particular, achieved wide attention from both academia and industry.


Automated Fingerprint Identification Systems (AFIS) is a comprehensive reference on fundamental and advanced topics in the field of fingerprint identification. The book covers a wide range of perspectives, from the viewpoint of students, who want to learn about AFIS, and of managers, who want to procure an AFIS system. The book is a solid source of information on the technical, contractual, management, interoperability, and identification issues that affect automated fingerprint identification.

Discussion of chapters

The book's 10 chapters are organized into four parts:

  • the introduction and background to fingerprint technology;
  • AFIS system and general issues;
  • AFIS standards and contractual issues; and
  • a case study.

Introduction and background

Part 1 consists of chapters 1 through 3. In chapter 1, the author discusses biometrics-based fingerprint identification, including a brief history of the domain, past and current identification practices, and AFIS and related issues. Chapter 1 is essentially a roadmap. Chapter 2 outlines the history of AFIS and elaborates the step-by-step development of AFIS in criminal and noncriminal applications. This chapter also contains a useful section on integrated AFIS (IAFIS)—a system for integrating fingerprint comparisons with criminal history record processing—that the FBI (Federal Bureau of Investigation) used in 1995 to automate its fingerprint records.

Chapter 3 elaborates on the uniqueness of fingerprints in biometrics-based identification applications. In particular, the author stresses fingerprint identification's importance, which has resulted chiefly from its comparatively low cost. Fingerprint identification is inexpensive in contrast to DNA comparisons, which are more costly to perform in terms of expertise and equipment and take much more time to conduct in verifying a person's identity.

AFIS system and general issues

The second part of the book consists of chapters 4 through 6. In chapter 4, the author summarizes an AFIS system's essential parts—namely the information systems, identification systems, communication linkages, and databases—and their interactions. Particularly interesting is the information about the AFIS database, which encompasses tenprint and latent print databases. In addition, chapter 4 explains the differences between tenprint and latent print processing. Tenprint contains the rolled and plain impressions from the 10 fingers of an individual under a controlled environment. Latent print is a fingerprint impression left at a crime scene by touching, holding, or moving an object that has a firm or hard surface.

Chapter 5 gives a more detailed and comprehensive description of identification processing by using tenprint and latent print processing techniques. The description includes a delineation of the equipment used in AFIS components. The chapter also includes a brief look at the reports that AFIS can generate.

Chapter 6, which begins with the SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats) analysis of AFIS, is a good source for those who want to know more about these four pillars of an AFIS system. The author outlines the key issue of interoperability, which AFIS systems usually lack, between federal agencies such as the Department of Homeland Security and the FBI's IAFIS, and briefly compares DNA with fingerprints. (DNA can provide the information about a person's genetics, while a fingerprint contains unique friction ridges on a fingerprint, not genetics.) Some new civil applications of AFIS with multistate and multinational identification systems are also described: for example, WINPHO, a mugshot photo identification system by Western Identification Network Inc., and Eurodac, a system established by the European Union to compare fingerprints of asylum applicants and illegal immigrants against a database.

AFIS standards and contractual issues

Part three consists of chapters 7 through 9. Chapter 7, which discusses procurement issues—such as pre-acquisition, acquisition, and development and deployment of an AFIS—will be most helpful to organizations interested in buying an AFIS, or upgrading an existing AFIS legacy system to cope with current development challenges. Chapter 7 supplies pertinent details about the process and documentation, such as the CMM, to increase the probability of an organization's successful AFIS procurement.

Chapter 8 contains analysis of standard and interoperability aspects of AFIS. This chapter lists some of the standards used by the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), American National Standards Institute (ANSI), and FBI for the transmission, compression, decompression, and administrative issues of fingerprint images. A case study described here illustrates how AFIS identification rates can be degraded due to the current lack of interoperable standards.

Chapter 9 provides an overview on contractual issues regarding the purchase of an AFIS. In contrast to chapter 7, however, chapter 9 doesn't discuss the terms and conditions for an AFIS solicitation or resulting contract. The chapter identifies vital steps, which organizations can adopt before committing to an acquisition contract with AFIS vendors. The issues, practices, and steps explained here can provide civil agencies with a purchasing roadmap to AFIS.

Case study

Applying theoretical concepts in a practical setting is always a challenge and a daunting task. Part 4, which consists of a case study the author presented at a conference in 2002, goes a long way toward enlightening readers about this task. This case study elaborates a practical scenario of the New York state division of criminal justice services (DCJS). The study demonstrates how the DCJS doubled the number of latent print identifications achieved through a combination of technical improvements—faster identification, more accurate results, better agency interface—and research of DCJS examiners concerning some existing cases. This case study gives a rationale for DCJS management's decision to increase the number of latent print identifications produced in their services.


Practitioners in the security community, and students studying biometric fingerprint authentication technology, will find this book quite useful. Individuals or organization in the process of procuring or buying an AFIS will also find the book valuable. The book is well organized and covers essential topics concerning the design, implementation, and application of AFIS and presents the topics in order, from basic to advanced concepts.

A weak point of the book is that it doesn't address the security and privacy challenges inherent in biometrics-based authentication systems. Recently, for example, biometrics systems have in fact been spoofed or hacked, and numerous published papers have proved the vulnerabilities of such systems. Because an AFIS is also a biometrics system, it could also be susceptible. Nonetheless, although the book's lack of discussion concerning AFIS security issues is a drawback, on balance this book is helpful in the way that it presents data—particularly from the case study—to illustrate different facets of automated fingerprint identification systems.

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