Military contractor claims it can read fingerprints from 6m

IDair, a military contractor, claims that it can image and resolve fingerprints from six meters away. The article goes into a lot of credulous, breathless rhapsody about this, but fails to note that if your fingerprints can be read from 20 feet away, then any crook who wants to be able to impersonate you will find it trivial to do so -- if we allow fingerprints to serve as a form of identification, that is. And of course, you can't change your fingerprints, so once they've leaked onto the net, you're hosed for life. So, basically, as soon as this technology is popular, it will be obsolete.

It's the security of the fingerprint database that concerns privacy experts such as Lee Tien, a senior staff attorney at the Electronic Frontier Foundation. "There are so many steps where a (digital) fingerprint can leak," Tien said.

Tien said electronic fingerprints can be like Social Security numbers. He calls them "coat hangers" on which a lot of identifying information can be hung. In other words, with a Social Security number, you can find out many other things about someone. Fingerprints could be same way, he said, and "someone else could use it to pretend to be me."

"Yes, it can be abused," Burcham agreed. "Anything can be abused. The point is, are there restrictions in place to not abuse it?" The answer with IDair is yes, he said. "But what it's going to come down to is: Do you want to go through that door? Do you want to buy something with Amazon?"

IDair's new fingerprint reader captures prints from 6 meters away (via /.)

(Image: Fingerprints, a Creative Commons Attribution (2.0) image from pagedooley's photostream)


  1. An existing technology can resolve fingerprints over enormous distances of space and indeed time. All it requires is something you once touched!

    We should probably ban that.

    1. Can’t effectively ban technology once its already out there. More likely this just makes fingerprint identification less useful. Not completely useless, as copying another persons prints is not completely trivial.

      An impersonator requires access to this technology, which isn’t completely available, the know how to do this, and the forethought to impersonate a particular person. This is a supervillain-scale level of criminal enterprise compared to the less complicated wearing friggin’ gloves. 

      1.  The question isn’t whether you can copy someone else’s prints – but whehter you can copy them well enough to fool a machine at 6m distance.

        1. No, it really isn’t. The question is whether the identity-conscious class can make fingerprints obsolete as a mechanism of identification. Which I suspect they can, with ease. I can think of three ways to do it, right now, and I’m not especially clever.

          Problem solved.

          More importantly? Story element made ridiculous. Don’t do it, man.

  2. A lot of the ‘finger-print’ technology is actually based on emission points within the finger, so stealing someone’s finger print off of a whiskey or water glass would be relatively pointless. I suppose your data could be stolen up to 10 times before you run out of new sources of authentication. 

  3. How soon  ’til we get that resolution for our TVs?
    Should make the red carpet part of Oscar Night that much more special.

    1. Because seeing Laurence Fishburne’s pores on an IMAX screen wasn’t enough of a life lesson.

    1.  Even if they are not unique, the identification process to match fingerprints is hardly the “hard science” which the average person thinks it is. Fingerprint matching is a very subjective science – while computers may be used to provide a probability or potential candidates, a definitive pronouncement for legal purposes requires a human operator with all the potential for mistake and prejudice that is usually accompanied by human operators.

  4. Well I’ve spent some quality bloody time with a belt sander, Cory, so you can take yer paranoia and stuff it.

    Or sand it.

    Whatever your needs are, really.

    1.  I can read it from the Internet – Roosevelt on one side, flames and flowers on the other. And it’s worth 10 cents as a bonus. Right?

  5. At least in the case of an social security number, it is something that exists in memory, or at the very worst as a card to be kept in a wallet. 

    Hanging data on something that is not only exposed for all to see, and which leaves impressions of itself on everything you touch seems like an immensely bad idea.That is, unless you are in the pocket of the glove lobby…. 

  6. Even if they had a cheap and easy way to read fingerprints off people in passing, and even if it were easy to connect those fingerprints to someone’s ID, what makes you think that we’d stop using fingerprints for ID?

    It would be the sane and sensible course of action, surely. But since when does that matter?

  7. Ok, I agree with the privacy concerns and fingerprints not being as easily replaced as stolen credit cards. But let’s look at some details here:
    The company (link to website in source post) actually claims a reading distance of more than 1.5m, 6.5ft, and up to 2m depending on what part of their website you look at. Still impressive, but not 6m.They use two 1.8 MP cameras and claim 500px/inch resolution. That would be a sensor size of something like 1550×1160 pixels. To get the resolution, the active reading area is somewhere around 3×2 inches. That combined with the fact that they use a vertically polarized filter in on one camera and a horizontally polarized filter on the other (meaning a lot of light gets lost) means that the active area is quite small and brightly illuminated.

    So I would conclude: Interesting? Definitely! General concerns about fingerprint technology apply! Sure! But domesday scenario for harvesting ID’s from anyone passing within visual distance? Nahh, not quite there yet…. 

  8. Your fingerprints start to vanish as you get older until a typical ink to paper “take” no longer works.

  9. oh you can change your fingerprints. all it takes is a table saw and a moment of inattention. i can’t imagine it will be very popular though.

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