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We Can Now Fingerprint Children at 6 Months Old, But Should We?

By Wayan Vota on January 19, 2017

In 1899, Sir Francis Galton first captured ink-on-paper fingerprints of a single child from birth until the age of 4.5 years, manually compared the prints, and concluded, “the print of a child at the age of 2.5 years would serve to identify him ever after”.

Since then, ink-on-paper fingerprinting and manual comparison methods have been superseded by digital capture and automatic fingerprint comparison techniques, but only a few feasibility studies on child fingerprint recognition have been conducted.

In Fingerprint Recognition of Young Children, the researchers Anil Jain, Sunpreet Arora, and Kai Cao present the first systematic and rigorous longitudinal study that addresses the following questions:

  • Do fingerprints of young children possess the salient features required to uniquely recognize a child?
  • If so, at what age can a child’s fingerprints be captured with sufficient fidelity for recognition?
  • Can a child’s fingerprints be used to reliably recognize the child as he ages?

They collected fingerprints of 309 children (0-5 years old) four different times over a one-year period, and show, for the first time, that fingerprints acquired from a child as young as 6 hours old exhibit distinguishing features necessary for recognition.

In fact, state-of-the-art fingerprint technology achieves high recognition accuracy (98.9% true accept rate at 0.1% false accept rate) for children older than 6 months and recognition accuracy is not significantly affected over the one-year time lapse in the data.

Fingerprinting of Children is Possible: Should We Do It?

With rapidly growing requirements to recognize children for vaccination tracking, delivery of supplementary food, and national identification documents, fingerprint recognition of young children (6 months and older) is a viable identification solution.

However, should we really be encouraging fingerprinting at such a young age? Informed consent is impossible at 6 months old, and unlike a password, a fingerprint cannot be changed if hackers gain access to it.

Also, do we really want to create such an intensely personal and usable identification system in contexts where children are already so marginalized or threatened that humanitarian actionas are required?

Might it be better to just not have that data?

Let us know your thoughts in the comments…

Filed Under: Data, Featured
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Written by
Wayan Vota co-founded ICTworks and is the Digital Health Director at IntraHealth International. He also co-founded Technology Salon, MERL Tech, ICTforAg, ICT4Djobs, ICT4Drinks, JadedAid, Kurante, OLPC News and a few other things. Opinions expressed here are his own and do not reflect the position of IntraHealth International or other ICTWorks sponsors.
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2 Comments to “We Can Now Fingerprint Children at 6 Months Old, But Should We?”

  1. Mitesh Gala says:

    I like this idea. I think fingerprinting is a good method to add security to personal data as well as proof of immunization. That way even the health worker would not have access to records without the child being present.

    Informed consent for children below 5yrs comes through their parents or authorized guardians. So, I don’t see this as a informed consent issue.

    The age of data has always been there. It has gone from paper records to digital records now. This will help reduce inefficiencies in the system and also make programs such as healthcare agnostic of the type of government driving the programs.

  2. Emily Tomkys says:

    There are two main reasons why I am so against this:
    1. What is the purpose? Do we actually need this information? Just because you can really doesn’t mean you should and one of the main drawbacks of using technology for data collection is people collect far more than they need wasting communities time. You can collect other information to get identification
    2, Responsible data – this child has no say over their fingerprint being taken. Informed consent is a huge issue – they can not say no. And even if parents give their consent, do they really understand what they are giving? Do people understand how this could be used and abused? What are the power dynamics at play – do they feel that they have to give this over in order to receive aid? This gives the ability to track people form birth – who knows who and how this can be abused in the future?
    I am not for biometrics full stop for children or adults and the arguements are the same for both but morally, I don’t think it is right especially for young children who have no idea or say in what is happening.