As technology advances, it often comes at the cost of our personal privacy, whether it’s GPS tracking technology, browsers sharing your history with advertisers, or smart TVs recording and transmitting your personal conversations. The latest major setback for those of us who are uncomfortable with so much personal information floating around comes in the form of a new fingerprint testing technology that is set to be used in courts in just a few months.
Fingerprints have long been used in solving crimes, but this new technique from researchers at Sheffield Hallam University adds capabilities that most of us could barely imagine just a few years ago. It’s now possible for fingerprints to be used to identify a suspect’s gender, the food they’ve eaten, and even whether or not they’ve used a condom recently. The researchers believe fingerprints could be used to discern a person’s “state of mind” at the time a crime was committed.
The technology is a form of mass spectrometry that works by vaporizing fingerprint samples and then firing them through electric and magnetic fields within a vacuum. In this environment, particles with different masses behave in different ways, enabling researchers to single out specific molecules and identify them. It can determine details like whether or not a person has touched blood; taken drugs like heroin, cocaine, THC or amphetamines; used cosmetics or cleaning products; what brand of condom lubricants they’ve used; and what food they’ve consumed.
The technology is known as Matrix-Assisted Laser Desorption Ionization Mass Spectrometry Imaging and Profiling. The project’s lead, Dr. Simona Francese, told the BBC that because fingerprints are essentially sweat, which is a biological matrix, they contain molecules not only from inside the body but also from anything that has recently come into contact with your fingertips. This means that the level of information that is just waiting to be retrieved from your fingerprints is extraordinary.
According to the researchers, this could help “generate circumstantial, associative or even corroborative evidence on the suspect’s lifestyle and activities, allowing more informed criminal investigations and judicial debates.”
Some might say there is no reason to worry if you have nothing to hide, but where does it end? If it can be used to solve crimes, it can be used for nefarious reasons as well. It may even get to the point where people don’t find this all that invasive, especially considering the fact that many now have smart devices monitoring every move they make in their homes.
In fact, law professor Andrew Ferguson recently warned that it’s only a matter of time before law enforcement could start using internet-connected devices to start monitoring people’s homes, even without warrants.
According to Gartner, some 8.4 billion devices connected to the internet this year, a rise of nearly a third over last year. Moreover, they predict there will be approximately three smart devices for each person on Earth by the year 2020. This poses a staggering number of opportunities for every last detail of people’s lives to fall into the wrong hands. There is no telling just how far all of this could go, so it’s important to think twice before you start connecting everything in your house to the internet.