Fingerprints have long been used by law enforcement to identify individuals with respect to a criminal investigation. Fingerprint evidence can be used to effectively convict a person of a crime, which is a fair indication of their reliability.
For two sets of prints to be considered a match, there have to be a certain number of corresponding elements, like whorls or islands in the prints. These elements, known as minutiae or Galton Points, named after Sir Francis Galton, are the characteristics of a print which can be used for comparison. The condition is enforced to rule out the possibility of coincidentally similar markings on two different individuals. If the criterion is not satisfied, the match is not conclusive.
Prints are usually captured using an optical input device, which takes a picture of the print. The print is then compared against all the prints in the database. The comparison uses an algorithm to sort through the database and identify potential matches.
Fingerprint scanners are quite commonplace now, even as peripheral devices retailed in computer stores. Some laptops, like Sony Vaio and Lenovo machines, have the scanner built into the device, allowing a user to implement biometric identification for access control.