Trio leads fingerprint accuracy

Fingerprint Vendor Technology Evaluation

The best computerized systems that match fingerprints automatically are accurate more than 99 percent of the time, according to a study released by the National Institute of Standards and Technology.

NIST officials tested 34 commercially available fingerprint matching, identification and verification systems provided by 18 companies. The most accurate systems had consistently low error rates across a variety of data, but fingerprint quality and the number of fingers used mattered most.

"An increased number of fingers resulted in higher accuracy — the accuracy of searches using four or more fingers was better than the accuracy of two-finger searches, which was better than the accuracy of single-finger searches," according to the study, titled "Fingerprint Vendor Technology Evaluation 2003."

Mandated by the Patriot Act and conducted on behalf of the Justice Department, the test ran from October to November 2003, and analysis continued through April 2004. The study is "the most comprehensive evaluation of fingerprint matching systems ever executed, particularly in terms of the number and variety of systems and fingerprints," according to the report.

The test used 48,105 sets of fingerprints from 25,309 people, with a total of 393,370 distinct fingerprint images, available through a variety of federal and state government sources.

"The test also shows that the most accurate fingerprint systems are more accurate than the most accurate facial recognition systems, even when comparing the performance of operational quality single fingerprints to high-quality face images," the report continued.

Of the 18 companies, the most accurate systems were produced by NEC Corp. in Tokyo; Sagem S.A. in Paris; and Cogent Systems Inc. in South Pasadena, Calif. The companies manufactured systems that produced similar results. Single-finger tests were accurate 98.6 percent of the time, two-finger tests were accurate 99.6 percent of the time, and for tests involving four or more fingers, tests were 99.9 percent accurate.

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