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*Important Notification* Regarding Unclassifable Fingerprints

Posted on Wed, May 21, 2008

Clearinghouse Continues to Track on Unclassifiable Fingerprints

As reported in the Transportation Security Clearinghouse bulletin on March 3, 2008, there has been a significant increase in the unclassifiable fingerprint rate at the FBI. Through inquiries and specific case examples presented by the Clearinghouse, the FBI determined that in the sample cases, the entire fingerprint pattern area was not being captured; therefore the FBI system could not classify the fingerprint pattern. To alleviate this problem, the FBI recommended that the fingerprint collector taking the fingerprints make a concerted effort to capture the rolled impressions from nail-bed to nail-bed. This will ensure that sufficient pattern area is available and should significantly reduce the number of unclassifiable fingerprint submissions.

Because this increase in the unclassifiable rate has not affected all of our fingerprint customers it is believed that the issue lies only with the fingerprint collection technique rather than with the FBI. The FBI has reported that updates made to their system are less tolerant of insufficient pattern area and that properly rolled, nail-to-nail fingerprints should not be affected.

The Clearinghouse has had the opportunity over the past month to work directly with several customers who continue to experience an unusually high unclassifiable rate. When we compared the classifiable and unclassifiable fingerprints using the customer’s fingerprint submissions, we were able to see visible differences in the pattern area in the rolled impressions. In several cases, these differences were further isolated by livescan machine serial numbers, indicating potential operator/collector technique issues.

When collecting the rolled impressions, the resulting fingerprint image will typically be almost square in appearance. Considering that you start at the fingernail edge and roll to the opposite fingernail edge (both typically straight lines), it is understandable that the left and right sides of the rolled impressions would be straight and near vertical. In several of the instances reviewed by the Clearinghouse with the customers, the unclassifiable rolled fingerprint image was absolutely clear with well defined patterns and had also scored high on the livescan device. However, those fingerprint images were oval in shape and were very similar to the plain (flat) impressions contained in the submission.

Since the Clearinghouse was established, we have maintained an online FBI training video for collecting fingerprints. This video is in Real Player format and requires the installation of a software plug-in to operate. As our customers continue to strengthen their network security, many were unable to install new software onto their computers and could not review the video. To ensure that this essential training aid can be viewed by a larger audience, the Clearinghouse recently added a Windows Media Player version of the training video to the website. The Clearinghouse also added a link to the FBI training webpage, Taking Legible Fingerprints. You can access either of these training aids by pointing your web browser to the Clearinghouse website at

If you continue to experience an unusually high unclassifiable rate after reviewing these training aids, please contact the Clearinghouse at (703) 797-2550. We will do our best to assist you through review of fingerprint images and FBI error messages.

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