The Rise of Biometric Identification: Fingerprints and Applied Ethics

Marcus Smith, Seumas Miller

Research output: A Conference proceeding or a Chapter in BookChapterpeer-review

2 Citations (Scopus)
26 Downloads (Pure)


In the late nineteenth century, it became understood that the patterns on the skin of the fingers were unique and could be used for identification purposes, leading to the development of biometric identification (Smith M, Mann M, Urbas G. Biometrics, crime and security. Routledge, 2018). The ease with which fingerprints can be accessed and recorded, and the ease with which they transfer to surfaces and objects, made them ideal for law enforcement purposes. Today, in digital form, fingerprints and other biometric identification techniques, notably DNA profiles and facial recognition technology, are a widely used means of identification across a range of applications, from accessing personal devices, to banking, border security and law enforcement. However, these uses have raised a raft of ethical or moral (we use these terms interchangeably) concerns, some of the more important of which we discuss in this work. In the first chapter, we discuss general aspects of biometric identification, before focusing on fingerprint identification, including its reliability as form of evidence. Secondly, we provide an overview of applied ethics; and outline a key theoretical notion, relevant to many of the issues discussed throughout the later chapters: collective responsibility. Finally, we analyse the ethical risks and benefits associated with the technique of fingerprint identification.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationBiometric Identification, Law and Ethics
EditorsMarcus Smith, Seumas Miller
Place of PublicationSwitzerland
Number of pages19
ISBN (Electronic)9783030902568
ISBN (Print)9783030902551
Publication statusPublished - 2021
Externally publishedYes

Publication series

NameSpringerBriefs in Ethics
ISSN (Print)2211-8101
ISSN (Electronic)2211-811X


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