Although few infants have criminal records, biometrics specialists at Michigan State University (MSU) are prepared for any newborn hard cases: They’re developing a system for fingerprinting babies.

According to New Scientist, researchers have detected unique patterns on fingertips in infants as young as six hours old and are working to perfect a detection system that accounts for the difficulty in capturing it. (Infants tend to have more densely-packed ridges on tiny fingers that are covered in a waxy coating; inexact, blurry images can result from trying to scan a squirming child.) MSU's computer software records and enhances the prints at a higher resolution, making positive identification possible.

MSU believes that fingerprinting newborns has a multitude of positive applications, including vaccine scheduling in countries with poor record-keeping systems [PDF] and locating missing or “swapped” children in hospital settings.

A test program at Saran Ashram Hospital in India that documented 319 babies had a 99 percent accuracy rating when children were fingerprinted at six months or older; researchers are looking to increase reliability for younger subjects. The work at Michigan State, led by Anil Jain, a distinguished professor of Computer Science, is being funded in part by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. 

[h/t New Scientist]