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Elder Fingerprint Failure

Posted Feb 05 2013 8:30am

I am a member of the advisory council and its executive committee for Clackamas County Volunteer Connection, an agency of the county Health and Human Services department. For this volunteer work, I am required to submit to a background check.

To accomplish this, fingerprints are needed so in early January, I drove the few miles to the Clackamas County Sheriff's office where such processes are officially conducted.

It surprised me a little; no messy ink as I expected from movies and television shows I've seen. Instead, it is done these days via computer by having one's fingertips rolled on a glass scanner. But the sheriff's office offers more services than fingerprinting.

For a woman who, as far as she can recall, has never been closer to any kind of gun except the one attached to the hip of a neighborhood patrol officer, the sheriff's building lobby is disconcerting – signs pointing to the Armory, signs advising people not to load or unload guns in the lobby and signs with prices for “ammo, one box per customer.”

Most disturbing were two areas juxtaposed to one another: a room behind a glass wall where people were shooting guns at paper targets and a children's area with a low table, chairs, a collection of kiddie books and bunch of toddler-sized teddy bears.

I guess the idea is to start 'em young.

I am as ignorant of this world as I am of quantum field theory and I was startled when a young man standing at the reception desk near me told the attendant he was there to apply for a concealed carry permit. I could be wrong but he didn't look a day over 18 to me. I'm still wondering what he needs that for.

As easy as the fingerprinting was back in January, I was happy to leave all that gun culture behind when I was finished and had thought that would be the end of it.

But no.

As it turns out, I am a fingerprint reject, a failure at fingerprints. Mine could not be read as this notice shows:

My Fingerprints card

Now I have learned that old people's fingerprints are hard to scan so yesterday morning I was required to hie myself back to that place of way too many guns for my comfort to have another whack at fingerprinting. But first, I checked around about elders and fingerprints.

”...fingerprinting did have significant engineering issues,' according to Ross Anderson , professor in security engineering at the University of Cambridge [England] Computer Laboratory. ‘There are some people whose fingerprints you can’t scan,' he said, 'people like bricklayers and tilers whose fingers have been worn flat.

“‘Old people tend to have much less distinct fingerprints than young people for similar reasons,' he continued. 'The equal error rate in fingerprints is about one per cent if everything goes well.’”

The Scientific American website reports that the failure rate for scanned fingerprints is about one to two percent and further notes,

”...the elasticity of skin decreases with age, so a lot of senior citizens have prints that are difficult to capture. The ridges get thicker; the height between the top of the ridge and the bottom of the furrow gets narrow, so there's less prominence. So if there's any pressure at all [on the scanner], the print just tends to smear.”

That's what happened with my first set of prints – smeared, unreadable. The FBI website has instructions for taking fingerprints of elders and others with impaired “ridges in the pattern area.”

”Apply light pressure and use very little ink to record these types of fingerprint impressions. A technique known as "milking the finger" can be used to raise the fingerprint ridges prior to printing. This technique involves applying pressure or rubbing the fingers in a downward motion from palm to fingertip.”

In my case, it's a scanner not ink, but when I discussed what I learned with the technician – different from the one who was there in January – she was way ahead of me in regard to the difficulty with old people and took a lot of time repeating scans to get my prints right this time.

Let's hope she did so because being around all those guns is way too unnerving for me. Or maybe I'm hypersensitive right now with all the crazy talk from people who oppose any gun control legislation at all.

At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Arlene Corwin: The Story Behind My Haircut

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