"It is true, and thus the question of whether it is sad or happy has no meaning whatever."
Bernhard Schlink

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Wednesday, September 14, 2005

'Infallible' Is A Dangerous Word 

For quite some time, finding fingerprints at the scene of a crime has been a kind of gold standard for identifying a culprit. Cops and criminologists, not to mention DA's and public defenders, view finger print evidence as pretty much infallible.

The trouble is that believing something is infallible is dangerous: new evidence suggests that there could be as many as 2000 fingerprint ID errors in the US each year, leading perhaps to wrongful convictions or worse. Beyond the simple problem of believing that something which is not infallible is infallible, there is the problem that, in believing fingerprints infallible, investigators could be sloppy about them, leading to more errors.

This revelation does not bode well for biometric ID systems, for which I will shed na'ry a tear.

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