Fingerprints (Almost) Never Lie:

When you go shopping, how do you pay for your purchases? Possibly with cash, if the amount is small. However, for a larger expenditure, you’re more likely to use your debit or credit card, either by entering your pin number or, if your card is “contactless”, waving it in front of the terminal. As we’re all aware, this latter option in particular involves risks: If you mislay your contactless card, anyone who finds it can then use it without having to provide identification.

As the Daily Mail journalist, Charlie Bayliss has noted, statistics provided by the UK Finance organization indicate that there has been a significant surge in contactless fraud, hence their advice that banks in Britain should not increase the existing limit of £30 for such payments. In many other countries, the limit is even less. For example, Spain (£17.90), Chile (£13.65), Brazil (£10.50), Italy (£22.47), although in the USA it’s higher – £78. Several UK banks have now come up with what they consider to be the ideal solution.

On 24th April, the Daily Mail columnist Joe Pinkstone, reported that NatWest is launching “Britain’s first biometric bank card which will allow people to verify payments over £30 just with their fingerprint and so without having to enter their PIN.” They will have to first arrange with their bank for their fingerprint to be converted into an encrypted digital template to be stored on the card, which they can then slot into any retailer’s terminal while placing their finger (or thumb) on the embedded sensor.

The technology has been developed together with the digital security company Gemalto, Visa and Mastercard, successfully tested in South Africa and “makes use of features that are naturally unique from person to person, so is thought to be much more secure than traditional authentication methods”.

According to research conducted by Purdue University in America and INHA University in South Korea – cited by the Guardian’s Money Editor, James Coney on 12th May – there is one “small problem” with this new system. Fingerprints fade as people get older, especially after they reach their sixties, due to the fact that the skin becomes thinner, and less moist. These “friction ridges”, as they are known by the experts, are found not only on our finger-tips, but also on our palms, our toes and the soles of our feet.

The BBC News magazine has pointed out that, although these patterns are durable and supposedly permanent, they can wear down. Builders who lay bricks, people who work with abrasive materials or frequently wash dishes by hand can lose some of the detail: “Labourers could also find their fingerprints are not recognised by new high-tech equipment. They are not alone: Typists, pianists, violinists and guitarists also face potentially inaccurate readings”.

The fingerprint expert, Raymond Broadstock, has emphasised that trying to change your fingerprints artificially – for instance by burning the finger-tips with fire and acid, as the American gangster, John Dillinger, did in the 1930’s – only works for a while, as the skin eventually grows back.

Another criminal, Robert Phillips, grafted skin from his chest to his fingers to erase his fingerprints – but was identified from the prints of his palms, which are also unique. “Others have tried smoothing their finger-tips with glue and nail-varnish. Again, they were caught from palm prints”, Even identical twins who have the same DNA have different fingerprints.

Although checking fingerprints to solve crimes might seem to be a relic of the past and to belong more to the era of Sherlock Holmes, it is still – according to IMI Data Search – “one of the best ways we have to track down offenders”. The Federal Bureau Of Investigation (FBI) in America now deploys “Advanced Fingerprint Identification Technology (AFIT) which, it insists, “increases the accuracy and daily fingerprint processing capacity and improves system availability”.

Most Latin American countries require a fingerprint on their ID cards so that public and private institutions can verify immediately if the bearer is the person they claim to be. The European Commission has now also proposed that identity cards held by European Union (EU) citizens should be required to include two elements of biometric data: an image of two fingerprints and a facial image. The objective, it declares, is “to eliminate paper-based identity documents that are easy to falsify and can be used to enter the bloc from non-EU countries”.

This development is vehemently opposed by the civil liberties group, Statewatch as “unnecessary and unjustified”. More than half of EU Member States, it observes, “don’t currently collect their citizens’ fingerprints to store on identity cards, so hundreds of millions of people will become subject to this disproportionate measure. It should be rejected by the European Parliament and Council”.

In Germany, nationals can choose whether or not to have finger-print data on their ID cards. In Belgium, it will be added as from October 2019. In Spain, new ID cards already include fingerprints. There’s no obligatory ID card system in the UK.

Filed under: Society | Posted on June 4th, 2019 by Colin D Gordon

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