Please create an account to participate in the Slashdot moderation system


Forgot your password?
Privacy Science Your Rights Online

Fingerprint Test Tells Much More Than Identity 166

Mike sends in the story of a new fingerprint technology with interesting potential for both crime detection and rights violations; there are also intriguing possibilities in fighting cancer. "Using a variation of mass spectrometry called 'desorption electrospray ionization' or 'Desi,' a fingerprint can identify what the person has been touching — drugs, explosives, or poisons, for example. Writing in the Friday issue of the journal Science, R. Graham Cooks, a professor of chemistry at Purdue University, and his colleagues describe how the technique could find a wider application in crime investigations. As it becomes cheaper and more widely available, the Desi technology has potential ethical implications, Cooks said. Instead of drug tests, a company could surreptitiously check for illegal drug use of its employees by analyzing computer keyboards after the employees have gone home, for instance."
This discussion has been archived. No new comments can be posted.

Fingerprint Test Tells Much More Than Identity

Comments Filter:
  • Privacy (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Ethanol-fueled ( 1125189 ) * on Friday August 08, 2008 @12:33PM (#24527323) Homepage Journal

    Instead of drug tests, a company could surreptitiously check for illegal drug use of its employees by analyzing computer keyboards after the employees have gone home, for instance.

    What would the company do after 75% of its keyboards test hot for dope? I don't think that any company(other than the military or any other organization which has to do with national security) is stupid enough to scare away much of their workforce.

    Sure, most companies have pre-employment drug testing, but that's mainly about image -- If you're too fiendish to quit long enough for the drugs to leave your system or if you're not savvy enough to use a clean-test kit(I endorse Detoxify brand drinks ^_^) then you're undesireable for employment. Remember, in the U.S. Marijuana is still illegal and is a schedule I substance which officially has "a high potential for abuse" and "no accepted medical use" and is "lacking safety for use under medical supervision".

    This type of test should only be used to solve crimes and diagnose illnesses -- not to invade privacy. Imagine your insurance rates going through the roof because the form you signed had traces of tobacco and who-knows-what-else. Surprise!

    • Re:Privacy (Score:5, Funny)

      by g0bshiTe ( 596213 ) on Friday August 08, 2008 @12:38PM (#24527425)
      Of course theres always SuperGlue.
      A few dabs on your fingertips should hold back any substances while you bang away on the keyboard at work. Of course your employer may wonder why you have no fingerprints.
      • Re:Privacy (Score:5, Funny)

        by snowraver1 ( 1052510 ) on Friday August 08, 2008 @12:44PM (#24527537)
        Ahh the `ol dab of superglue every morning as you leave the car trick. I think by friday, my fingers would have a 1mm layer of hard glue. Not to mention that your oils get blocked too and you lose your grip.

        Nah they can test all they want, find the dope and I'll be all like "OMGWTF what is marijuana? I have NEVER even seen it let alone touched it. Someone must of sabatoged my desk." Then everyday before work I would sprinkle a little crystal on the coffee pot handle.
        • Re:Privacy (Score:5, Insightful)

          by negRo_slim ( 636783 ) <> on Friday August 08, 2008 @01:11PM (#24528023) Homepage

          Then everyday before work I would sprinkle a little crystal on the coffee pot handle.

          I think you over estimate the amount of drug needed to be found for any sort of conclusive judgment on the employee. The fact that most, if not all, keyboards would have some undesirable substance on 'em. And that is similar to the problem they have with current drug tests and the solution, there is a cut off limit which assumes some degree of inaccuracy in the test and prescribes a limit of substance found to ensure its above and beyond what could be considered reasonable when the amount of inaccuracy of any given test is considered.

          Just to throw it out there I blame a weak American populace for rolling over and allowing the establishment of the drug testing industry. As the most obvious flaw is with marijuana as it can stay in your system for a month or more under the right circumstances. While even heavy users of very heavy drugs have a 3-4 day turn around before they are clean... AT MOST. That includes methamphetamine, cocaine, hydrocodone and alcohol.

        • by KGIII ( 973947 )

          Director Josef: You keep your work station so clean, Jerome.
          Vincent: It's next to godliness. Isn't that what they say?
          Director Josef: Godliness. I reviewed your flight plan. Not one error in a million keystrokes. Phenomenal. It's right that someone like you is taking us to Titan.
          Vincent: Has the committee approved the mission? There's been talk of delay.
          Director Josef: You shouldn't listen to talk. You leave in a week. You've got a substance test.

          • by Tensor ( 102132 )
            Excellent Gattaca quote.

            While reading this I was thinking about the scene where Vincent vacuums his keyboard...

        • Everybody trade keyboards every morning.

    • by Nursie ( 632944 )

      Do "most" places really do that in the US?

      It's really unusual here in the UK. I could see it being slipped in under the radar without too many people making a fuss - it only affects druggies right! - but I've yet to take a test.

      not that it would be positive, anyway.

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by Rycross ( 836649 )

        The only drug tests I've had to undergo in the US were for financial institutions. Usually these places put a fair bit more scrutiny on new hires than normal. I can't really speak about how common it is in general.

        • The only drug tests I've had to undergo in the US were for financial institutions.

          I would say 9 out of every 10 jobs, that pay 40k or less institute at least a drug test upon the conditional offer of employment. However my experience in the job markets are limited to the Pacific Northwest region of the United States.

          • by jc42 ( 318812 )

            I would say 9 out of every 10 jobs, that pay 40k or less institute at least a drug test upon the conditional offer of employment.

            And roughly 0% of the jobs that pay over $100k require drug tests. If they did, where would employers find anyone that they could hire?

        • I've had drug tests for certain jobs, even professional level engineery types. Typically the larger companies.

          Typically the smaller co's I've worked for have no drug testing policy.

          One, I found out why they did not have a drug policy - it's because many of the people there used, and it wasn't a secret.
        • Re:Privacy (Score:4, Interesting)

          by bughunter ( 10093 ) <> on Friday August 08, 2008 @02:08PM (#24529045) Journal
          I've worked for NASA and DoD contractors for 20+ years, and starting sometime in the late 1908's / early 1990's, it became a requirement for companies holding federal contracts to implement some sort of drug screening. Most of the employers I've encountered use urinalysis during the pre-employment physical. However some require random screening for part or all of their workforce.

          When I was working for Hughes in 1992 a memo circulated announcing their new random screening policy. Immediately one of my cow orkers headed straight for the cafeteria and bought five lemon poppy seed muffins. I found him sitting in the dining area, pounding his muffins, and said "Dude, what's with the muffins?"

          He said he just wanted to yield a positive on their testing and make it as expensive as possible for them. Especially if they terminated him.

          The expression on my face said, "Riiiiight..."

    • Nah. It's science fraud, in my opinion. The technique seems real, but the use is exaggerated. Employees would just wash their hands in a solution of soap and chlorine bleach before they went to work. The soap and bleach tears the molecules of complex compounds apart.

      Those who were especially careful would wear gloves when they handled an unusual substance.

      That kind of exaggeration of the benefits of some new science is common now. Maybe Griffin Analytical Technologies [] is looking for investors. Maybe i
      • That's assuming people are smart.


        And that's the sound of your argument being invalidated ;)

        MANY people would be caught with these techniques, simply because practices like that are difficult to do properly all the time.

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by fuggo ( 806416 )

      What would the company do after 75% of its keyboards test hot for dope?

      I guess they'd fire the stoner IT guy.

    • This type of test should only be used to solve crimes and diagnose illnesses -- not to invade privacy. Imagine your insurance rates going through the roof because the form you signed had traces of tobacco and who-knows-what-else. Surprise!

      Even for crime solving this technology isn't good.
      Mass spectroscopy allows the detection a very impressive dynamic range of concentrations.
      It can pick up incredibly tiny traces of some substance, which means it is very good at picking up contaminants too.

      Thus a lot of false positive may happen : forensic detect presence of substance X in some fingerprints. Did the suspect actually use-/consume-/come in contact with- substance X ? Or is it a contaminant that the suspect got on the fingers after shaking hand

      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by DrSkwid ( 118965 )

        > you *can* (and actually *do already*) trust answers you get from high sensitivity MS machine.

        I'd drifted off by here but the use of MS and trust jolted me back out of reality!

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Floritard ( 1058660 )
      I was thinking the same thing. Part of me hopes this gets implemented very widely, as it would only expose the fact that lots and lots of people get high. You'll find it in even the most unlikely people you've worked with or worked for. How awesome would it be if it backfired and companies had to backpeddle into some kind of don't-ask don't-tell policy after finding out just how many of their workforce likes to party.
  • Unlikely (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Xacid ( 560407 ) on Friday August 08, 2008 @12:34PM (#24527349) Journal
    I think it's highly unlikely that this would prove to be an effective measure of drug testing honestly. Think of the hands you shake, doors you touch, hand rails, etc etc. Need I continue?

    But from the nerd standpoint I gotta say - this is a pretty damned cool trick.
  • G A T T A C A (Score:3, Insightful)

    by gblackwo ( 1087063 ) on Friday August 08, 2008 @12:39PM (#24527437) Homepage
    It is a slippery slope.
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      Gattaca was about discrimination based on genetics, which a person can't (yet) control. This is about detecting trace amounts of substances being moved around by your fingertips.

      • Yes, but one of the creepy parts of the movie was the omnipresent testing performed. Genetics is just one test. I was surprised that gattaca wasn't one of the tags for the story.

      • by Sloppy ( 14984 )
        The two different threats have similar countermeasures, though.
    • by DrSkwid ( 118965 )

      I'm still trying to forget Attica, you insensitive clod!

  • by corporal_clegg ( 547755 ) on Friday August 08, 2008 @12:39PM (#24527441) Homepage
    So I guess we should be led to believe there really *is* scientific backing for the old "smell my finger", eh?
  • Wiener (Score:5, Funny)

    by melikamp ( 631205 ) on Friday August 08, 2008 @12:40PM (#24527461) Homepage Journal
    Ah, Mr. Johnson, I see you touched your wiener just now. Repeatedly.
  • Reasonable proof? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by tick_and_bash ( 1256006 ) on Friday August 08, 2008 @12:41PM (#24527471)
    Would this technology actually be able to prove that I am an active drug user, or would it just indicate that I have come into contact with the substance? (Money is mostly likely to have been exposed to drugs.) At the very least, I can see that it would suggest that some employees may need to learn to wash their hands after using the bathroom.
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      And that's my thought. It's well known that a significant portion of US currency has trace amounts of cocaine on it. While I loathe to link the site, it does provide some evidence: Cocaine Found on Money []

      So how does this analyzer determine who's an active drug user or just an innocent? Is cocaine on the keyboard enough evidence to require a drug test from an employee? Since the keyboard is company property, is it legal to scan it for trace amount of illegal drugs? Too many questions on this one...
      • Since the keyboard is company property, is it legal to scan it for trace amount of illegal drugs?

        That is a very interesting point. My current keyboard I bought myself, so it is not company property. Does that mean that they would not have the right to swab my keyboard?
  • by jeffmeden ( 135043 ) on Friday August 08, 2008 @12:42PM (#24527477) Homepage Journal
    On next week's episode of CSI: Miami

    CSI Wolfe: "We were able to lift half a fingerprint from the edge of the pencil the killer used to stab the victim in the eye..."

    Lt. Caine: "Did you do a DESI test?"

    CSI Wolfe: Yes, it indicated that the killer just got done eating a ham sandwich at the sub shop across the street before driving over here in his blue Toyota Corolla"

    Lt. Caine: "License plate number?"

    CSI Wolfe: "There wasn't quite enough on the print to get a complete number, we are having the computer analyze it to fill in the blanks."

    Lt. Caine: "I guess you could say, [fill in useless plot device here]"

  • "pico-analyzers" (Score:3, Interesting)

    by peter303 ( 12292 ) on Friday August 08, 2008 @12:47PM (#24527577)
    When you can routinely analyze for "parts per trillion" as these newer technology economically allow, you find nearly every chemical to some degree. I remember a scare a couple years ago when they found dioxin in nearly every agricultural product they looked at, but in parts per trillion. They would find ten thousand other poisons too if they look. Some legislation written without a significance-floor, so that puts some watchdogs intoa quandry.
  • When I didn't wash my hands after going to the bathroom? When I've been picking my nose? That can't be good!!!
  • If you're doing drugs, you're doing drugs. How is testing your keyboard more intrusive than peeing in a bottle while someone watches you. Only caveat is who was using your keyboard..As long as they follow up suspicious findings with a real drug test, WTF?

    • It's not about the intrusiveness, but about the accuracy of any conclusion to be drawn. There is a reasonable conclusion that the urine they get from you is all yours. There is not the same conclusion that can be drawn about anything found on your keyboard, at least in most office situations.

  • by postbigbang ( 761081 ) on Friday August 08, 2008 @12:59PM (#24527777)

    Nice CSI work, but before this will be admitted in a court, it'll have to go through immense amounts of testing. Soon, they'll be able to follow us by the DNA in dead skin we shed as we travel.

    See Mikey? Bubba was whizzin in the woods. His DNA is all over the place....

    • by Hatta ( 162192 )

      Nice CSI work, but before this will be admitted in a court, it'll have to go through immense amounts of testing.

      You'd be surprised. Regular fingerprinting has actually not been tested that much. It's not a science, there's no agreement among the experts about how many key points you need to make a match. Once you determine that there's a match, they can't give you the probability that it's a false positive. They simply haven't done the statistical analysis. It's a very old technique, and really it pred

      • Beyond a "reasonable doubt" may always be a problem, but we agree that reliance on DNA (like strands exist beyond statistical probabilities now accepted) and fingerprints (partials are dubious in some cases although forgery is also less likely)....

        • by Hatta ( 162192 )

          At least with DNA you can get a number telling you there is a 1 in 10 billion chance that this is a false positive. They can't do that with fingerprints.

          Historically, it's been too different to compare every known fingerprint to every other known fingerprint looking for random matches. But today we have huge databases of fingerprints on computer, and the computer power to compare them all. Why haven't they done the statistics? I think the law enforcement community is afraid to check their assumption tha

  • Because people don't already drop copious amounts of biological waste at work, they need to scrape minute amounts off of a keyboard.

    If the office was this concerned, they could just install Dr. Toilet and wait for the 1:00 PM rush.

  • False Positives (Score:5, Insightful)

    by lobiusmoop ( 305328 ) on Friday August 08, 2008 @01:29PM (#24528321) Homepage

    This reminds me of the case of the Birmingham Six [] here in the UK, where part of the evidence against them - the Griess test [] - which was supposed to prove handling of nitrate-based explosives - was later overturned when it was discovered that simply having handled laminated playing cards could generate a false positive in the test.

  • by Ihlosi ( 895663 ) on Friday August 08, 2008 @01:40PM (#24528527)
    By touching a fingerprint reader, you're picking up traces of whatever the person(s) fingerprinted before you have touched.

    Remember this simple fact if you're not a US citizen and travel to the States next time. Have you ever wondered what all those people who were fingerprinted before you touched ?

  • by nick_davison ( 217681 ) on Friday August 08, 2008 @01:50PM (#24528729)

    Why, yes, I have touched US currency. That's grounds for termination now? []

    This also comes within a week of Barry George being released after being wrongfully imprisoned for the murder of British TV presenter, Jill Dando. In his case [], a particle of gun powder was detected on him and this was used to argue he was clearly the murderer. Eight years of his life gone, the conviction was ruled unsafe because the defense weren't allowed to point out the entirely true fact: a single particle proves absolutely nothing and is well within normal contamination levels.

    Shows like CSI are incredibly dangerous. They lead us to assume that just because we can detect something, it somehow proves guilt. A single particle of gun powder goes not prove you fired a specific murder weapon. Traces of drugs on your banknotes don't prove they were involved in drug dealing (though police forces throughout the U.S. deliberately abuse that false assumption to merit seizing the money). Traces of drugs on someone's fingertips prove nothing more than they came in contact with U.S. currency which has been found to have up to 1,300 micrograms of cocaine per bill.

    • Shows like CSI are incredibly dangerous.

      Well, that's arguable, but since the show's writers are trying to portray their main characters as paragons of good and virtue, I found one exchange rather troubling - especially since so many people seem to take fiction as life lessons:
      Suspect: "I was acquitted of that"
      Horatio Caine: "But that doesn't mean you didn't do it, does it?"

      Which is a stupid fucking point to bring up, as you might as well turn it on its head:

      Horatio Caine: "You were convicted of killing and

  • doomed to fail (Score:3, Insightful)

    by slashmojo ( 818930 ) on Friday August 08, 2008 @02:00PM (#24528895)

    check for illegal drug use of its employees by analyzing computer keyboards after the employees have gone home

    Speaking as one who used to work nights cleaning offices of a very large global IT consultant during my student days and being a comp sci student alone at night in an office full of fancy computers with the latest software, I was basically like a kid in a candy store.. my prints may well have found their way onto quite a few keyboards in that place.. ;)

    Do you know what happens in your office in the dead of night?

    • by tsstahl ( 812393 )

      Do you know what happens in your office in the dead of night?

      Yes. It is in the business plan. After a full day of politicking and obstructionist management, the work must somehow get done. A night crew on crack of college kids grease the machines of corporate behemoths the world over.

  • Why not just use a Notebook Computer and a portable mouse? When you go home, take it with you. nothing left behind.... no fuss. Most employeers now encourge to use notebook computer due to the fact they will get those "additional" hours from you when you work from home.
  • A test that can't tell where or when you came in contact with a substance shouldn't be grounds for a legal search much less anything else.

  • FBI GUY: "This fingerprint has keyboard particles on it. Where do we go to find this ingenious perp. Not a trace of Girl to be found. Cheetos and Red Bull, and the faint dank traces of ... basement mold."

    Innocent Bystander (innocently eating Cheetos and Drinking a Red Bull): "Um, you guys realize that you just described 1/2 of Slashdot"

  • I imagine if this type of technology takes off someone could use it to find a third party's DNA on someone's fingers. Divorce lawyers will love it! At it's extreme, this could be HILARIOUS.

  • when i blogged about this yesterday []
    i put in a link to the company that makes the gadget. []
    Prosolia, Inc.
    351 West 10th Street
    Suite 316
    Indianapolis, IN 46202

    Hmm, I know right where that is, just down the street from me.
    I haven't been through their dumpster yet.

    above post is infomrative, insightful, indiscreet

  • used this type of technology with urine instead of finger prints, it would be a Desi-Lu production...

  • by jvkjvk ( 102057 )

    So, what happens when large groups of people independently all over the nation ddos the system?

    Spray cleaning solution that contains 10% thc on door handles. Coat bills in residue. Don't a high percentage of hundred dollar bills already contain traces of coke? (or is that so eighties?).

    Can't wait to the time when you won't dare shake someone's hand "because you don't know where it's been! or because you don't want the other party to analyze whatever it is you've been up to.

  • I gotta wonder who thinks up these strange paranoid scenarios where the employer would do something like this.. If an employee is suspected of drug use, why would you test their keyboard as opposed to just giving them a flat out drug test ?,, If you were strange enough to do something like testing of keyboards at night, you would still have to verify anything by doing a real test.. You know, one of those tests where you sign that that is "your" sample in the sealed bag.. It sounds like a waste of time and m
  • If so, you hands have been travelling far more than you.
    Unless you don't have hands, of course.
  • Am I the only one who recalls a statistic floating around in the 90's saying that something like 90% of all cash had traces of cocaine on it?

    If the technique is so sensitive you can pickup many things at a touch, then one would expect to pickup chemicals many times removed. What if I shake the hand of some random person who transfers chemicals onto me?

    It's the same problem with guilt by association. If we're all socially linked by six to eight degress of separation, how many people, just by chance are 3-4 d

  • Well,this is a good argument for getting that SBA loan and working for oneself.

System checkpoint complete.