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Fingerprints tell even more

April 16, 2018

You know that everyone’s fingerprints are unique (even identical twins do not share identical fingerprints), and they can be of critical value in solving crimes (or insuring that innocent people are not wrongly convicted).

But did you know that technologically advances have reached the point where fingerprint analysis can now extract a host of other personal information about the person — including what drugs a person has used?

According to this article in The Atlantic, it turns out that scientists can now analyze trace amounts of sweat found along the ridges of a fingerprint to determine whether the person has ingested cocaine, opiates, marijuana or other drugs.

As this technology comes into common use, courts will be called upon to balance the needs of law enforcement with the privacy rights of suspects. As it is, virtually everyone who is booked for a crime has his or her fingerprints taken, and they are put into some sort of database. This is done routinely, without the need for a search warrant. Does the state have the authority to test those fingerprints to determine if the suspect has used drugs, without first obtaining a search warrant?

These sorts of questions are what keep my professional life interesting.

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