|What is dactyloscopy?
Literally "finger-seeing", from the Greek daktylos = finger and skopein = to see. The tasks of fingerprint experts include recognition of individuals and analysis of clues at the scene of a crime. Fingerprints have been accepted as criminal evidence because they fulfil the criteria of uniqueness and immutability. It is probably that in the near future fingerprints will become the identification in general use. The purpose of identity cards is to identify their owner with as much certainty as possible – at present usually by a photograph, which is an imprecise and error-prone method. The photograph in a 15-year-old driving licence may raise a laugh, but is often hardly suitable as identification of its owner. A fingerprint fulfils this specific purpose precisely and without error. In addition, a lost or stolen identity card cannot be used by unauthorised persons.
In 2001, hundreds of visitors to the Ars Electronica in Linz – the most progressive festival in Europe, at the intersection of art and electronics – had no culturally influenced problems with registering their fingerprints in order to gain access to exhibitions, discussions and workshops by means of a thumb-print. The entrance fee was paid via cellphone.
Many companies are already working on practical applications for this kind of technology. The fingerprint as substitute for the car-key is ready for production, payment by thumb-print at coffee or drinks machines and direct debit via cellphone will soon be possible, obviating the necessity to grope around for small change.
These and similar uses will be accepted without any compulsory measures from the state, because they are practical, secure and efficient. The question of cultural acceptance of the fingerprint as instrument of identification will thus in the near future be superfluous.
(In China and other oriental countries, fingerprinting has been used since ancient times for authenticating passports, promissory notes and other documents. This form of authentication was already stipulated by law in the 7th century BC (Yung-Hui Code)).
The completely secure system of personal identification
If you look at your fingertips, you will see a fairly uniform pattern of fine lines, or papillary ridges. Centuries ago the Chinese knew that although a child's fingers grow, the pattern of epidermal ridges remains unchanged from birth to death, simply expanding as the hands grow. The Chinese had also recognised what is confirmed today: that no two people have the same fingerprint pattern.
It was Sir William Herschel, a Chief Magistrate in India, who started to use hand- and fingerprints to certify contracts with the locals, and recognising their potential for identifying criminals more reliably than through bertillonage, he collected comprehensive material. Later, the anthropologist and writer Sir Francis Galton (1822-1911) realised that a system would have to be developed to catalogue fingerprints so that they could be looked up in a register. In 1911, the Province of Saxony, at the behest of Dr. Robert Heindl, president of the Dresden police, was the first German state to institute fingerprinting for the registration of criminals.
Since then, the system has changed little; the technique used is still the same. Police look for fingerprints at the scene of a crime; these have then to be developed. The most usual prints are from perspiration, and have to made visible. On a smooth, hard surface this is done by dusting with contrasting powder; adhesive tape is used to lift the powdered print from the surface; it is then applied to a card and taken to the police records department. There, a specialist uses the lines to calculate a formula, and compares it with those in the archive. If a criminal record exists, a suspect can be identified. This process is used for most fingerprints on window glass, smooth, unpainted wood, celluloid, tiles, porcelain, silver, mirrors, smooth leather, the shiny side of wrapping paper, on furniture, car number-plates, enamelled objects, guns, cellophane, bottles, polished metal, electric bulbs or safes. Fingerprints on paper are nearly always invisible. Dusting is no use here. Paper is treated by iodine fuming, which makes the prints appear yellowish-brown, so that they can be photographed. They will then fade and vanish, but the process can be repeated as often as necessary. The police know where to look for prints on letters, since the position of the hand when writing is usually the same; this applies also to inserting a sheet of paper into a typewriter.
How is a clear fingerprint achieved? Lay a sheet of strong white paper along the edge of a table, and sit at the table so that the paper is to your right; take the left hand of the volunteer, who stands behind you, and roll the little finger first over a fairly dry ink-pad, then over the paper. Do the same with the other fingers and the thumbs, until you have ten rectangles on the paper.
Since identification by fingerprinting is infallible, it has revolutionised crime solution. Professional criminals are not at all happy about this. They go to extreme measures to remove their fingerprints – rubbing their fingertips painfully on sandpaper or concrete, applying caustic to the skin, or cutting their fingers. As soon as the inflammation has worn off and the wounds healed, the former epidermal ridge patterns reappear – and these are conclusive proof of identity.
Forgery is the deliberately deceptive and generally unauthorised imitation or alteration of valuable objects such as money, antiques, works of art, also of brand products. Unlike other crimes, forgery presupposes the participation of a specialist. Apart from money forgery, which took its own course and is still rife, forgery of antiques was a source of illegal wealth as early as the 15th century. Excavations have confirmed forgeries of valuable artworks from ancient temples.
Antique forgery developed into a regular industry: coins, gems, bronzes, terra-cotta works and imitations of ancient statues were buried for long periods in damp earth. In Italy, forgery is still a tradition: furniture, paintings, manuscripts and objets d'art – anything that becomes more valuable with age. It is not merely a matter of copies and artificial ageing; many forgers are past-masters, and paint new pictures in the style of the ancients. In Europe there was a particularly interesting scandal in 1945, when the Dutch painter Han van Meegeren was arrested by the secret police, accused of having sold a painting by Vermeer to the German marshal Hermann Göring in 1942, for the enormous sum of 1.65 million guilders, thus being guilty of collaboration with the Nazi regime. Van Meegeren was remanded in prison, where under police supervision he painted a further "antique" picture with such sensitivity that all the art experts, shamefaced, had to admit to having mistakenly declared many paintings as originals by Frans Hals, Vermeer or de Hooch. The master forger was in fact the "resurrected" Old Master from Holland's most important art epoch...
One speciality is forgery of identity cards. Every vagabond knew the trick of using a raw potato to copy a freshly-inked stamp from the original on to another piece of paper. The scribbled signature of a village mayor was easy enough to copy. Today, identity papers are somewhat better, although passports and identity cards are still not forgery-proof. As long as an identity card does not have its owner's fingerprints on safety paper, forgery is possible, since even sealed photographs can be replaced. Only the fingerprint deeply imprinted on safety paper constitutes genuine protection.
Forgery of passports and identity cards can be carried out by reprographers and printers, with help of a bookbinder. With adequate equipment, these three specialists can imitate any identity paper.