How reliable is fingerprint analysis?

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  • Published on:  Tuesday, August 7, 2018
  • Fingerprinting is used by law enforcement all over the world, but it may not be as reliable as you think.

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    Fingerprinting has been a vital tool in forensic science since 1911 when the first conviction was handed out based on fingerprint evidence. It’s been used in countless investigations to help convict or rule out suspects, but is it as reliable as we think?

    According to one study, researchers found that fingerprint analysts had a false positive rate (i.e. when they incorrectly conclude two prints are a match) of 0.1%. That may seem low, but that percentage reveals that innocent people are still being implicated in crimes.

    Brandon Mayfield is one of the most famous examples of a false positive identification. The FBI arrested him for the 2004 Madrid train bombing based on a wrongful fingerprint match.

    Most people agree that it’s a useful tool, but we might want to exercise a bit more skepticism when it comes to trusting fingerprints. is a news website that helps you cut through the noise and understand what's really driving the events in the headlines. Check out

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  • Jacob W
    Jacob W  2 days ago

    I appreciate the Kingdom Hearts esque battle music in the end credits

  • Felix Hayes
    Felix Hayes  5 days ago

    Peter Valentin looks like that fat kid from icarly

  • Bunty Sonawane
    Bunty Sonawane  7 days ago +1

    But fingerprint is still more reliable. It's been used for so long with maximum positive results.

  • Kaustubh Kadu
    Kaustubh Kadu  8 days ago


  • Thiago Arzua
    Thiago Arzua  12 days ago

    I thought it was a VSauce video at first

  • buttersidedown
    buttersidedown  23 days ago +1

    is it just me or does he sound like james from theodd1sout??

  • Arely Castillo
    Arely Castillo  25 days ago


  • Andrew Ober-Reynolds

    That's the problem with biometrics in general just think of Amazon's Rekognition software that matched 28 members of congresses faceprints to criminal mugshots and that software was operating at the default threshold of 80% confidence

  • Christopher Barber

    this one time., i got cursed by a genie and my soul switched with microscopic little red bug and i had to navigate the maze of my own fingerprints till i made the genie laugh. never take LSD from any magical genies, kids

  • Ryan Porter
    Ryan Porter  a months ago

    hello, im doing a boy scout merit badge, fingerprinting, and i cant seem to find video or article on the difference between AIFS and Biometric fingerprinting.If anyone could help it would be great.

    TEPPOSH  1 months ago

    FYI, you could destroy your own fingerprint using manicure tools, and your fingerprint will destroyed for around 2-4 weeks.

  • New Goliard
    New Goliard  1 months ago

    Same thing with polygraphs........they give false positives like 3 out of 10 times %30

  • Rajef Kumar
    Rajef Kumar  1 months ago

    3:37 When you Said Ur Brother to Cover only the Background but He covered the whole room

  • Socrates
    Socrates  1 months ago

    Come on Vox... It's beginning to look like you don't actually read the reports you cite. Directly under the heading about Mayfield's religion, which you highlight while describing its role in the fingerprint identification, the report reads: 'the examiners were not aware of Mayfield's religion at the time [they matched the fingerprint]'. They only learned of his religion after the match had been verified.
    This was clearly a terrible mistake, but it doesn't look like his religion had anything to do with the initial identification, as you suggest, even if it might have helped to confirm their suspicions.

  • Rahil
    Rahil  1 months ago

    More reliable than a vox video

  • Tomonori Tani
    Tomonori Tani  1 months ago

    The police should divide the profile of the suspect and the fingerprint of the criminal. The Police may reach a biased conclusion.

  • Makreelvis
    Makreelvis  1 months ago

    I find the video misleading. It's not a problem of fingerprint analysis, its a problem of bias. If you have a full fingerprint for evidence, there is no chance in the world to get a false positive (exept for twins)

  • Controversial Topics

    With hundreds of thousands of finger prints on file an error of 0.1% is still incredibly accurate. Meaning, that if you get fingerprinted and your prints match a crime scene, you are more than 99% likely to have committed the crime. I love how that little detail was left out of this video Vox, trying to debunk our criminal justice system on something as important as fingerprinting is in itself wrong and you know this. I would expect a higher ethical standard from you if you intend to make this argument.

  • Billay649
    Billay649  1 months ago

    Not the yerg-z dude!

  • Rashawn Person
    Rashawn Person  1 months ago

    T’was boring.