The FBI wants to use artificial intelligence to identify hardened criminals who have obscured their fingerprints by burning or cutting them.
For decades this practice has helped offenders escape the law, but now forensic experts hope to create a next-generation system that can't be fooled by the practice.
The FBI has issued a request to technology companies across the United States for expert advice to help its Next Generation Identification (NGI) System project.
The government agency plans to use artificial intelligence to compensate for the missing portions of the as-yet unreadable fingerprints.
The new system will form part of the FBI's massive biometric database.
The FBI wants artificial intelligence tools that can ID people who have tried to change their fingerprints by burning or cutting them.
Officials from the Department of Justice and FBI issued a release 'requesting information regarding the use of Artificial Intelligence (AI) in the context of altered fingerprint detection and matching'.
They said they had 'identified a growing trend in which criminals intentionally alter their fingerprints to defeat identification within the NGI System'.
They are looking to create a system that could teach itself – and does not need to be pre-programmed for every possible eventuality with altered prints, according to Next Gov.
Criminals have been found to use a number of techniques to alter their fingerprints, including rubbing the skin, deliberately burning fingertips on a stove, dousing fingers in acid, and self-mutilation with razor blades.
According to Kasey Wertheim, an expert on fingerprint identification, the next step for hardened criminals could use plastic surgery techniques.
He said: 'Skin on the fingers and soles of your feet is actually quite thick but there has been speculation that lasers could potentially penetrate the friction ridge skin on your fingertips and alter the print.'
Fingerprints develop during the fourth month in utero and remain unchanged until death, when the distinctive patterns are destroyed by decomposition.
This consistency is why they are such an important tool for law enforcement.
'As those who seek to avoid identification continue to evolve their alteration techniques, it is critical that the NGI System maintain pace through the ability to learn in real time,' the FBI states.
Responses from technology and AI specialists are due on October 12, 2018.
It is currently unclear when – or if – the final system will be deployed by the FBI.
This is just the latest in a rush of government agencies looking to use artificial intelligence to help with law enforcement.
In July, one expert said facial recognition could help police to spot 'potentially dangerous' criminals before they've even broken the law.
For decades this practice has helped criminals escape the law but now experts say they hope to be able to match altered fingerprints with their unaltered counterparts.
Dr Michal Kosinski, who last year invented a controversial AI he claimed could detect your sexuality, said such face-reading technology may one day help CCTV cameras monitor public spaces for people predisposed to violent behaviour.
While the concept raises a number of key privacy issues, it has the potential to save lives, the Stanford University academic claims.
Dr Kosinski is currently working on computer programmes that detects everything from your political beliefs to your IQ by looking at a single photograph.
Speaking to the Guardian, he said the AI technology would work by picking up the changes to facial features caused by different testosterone levels.
'We know that testosterone levels are linked to the propensity to commit crime, and they're also linked with facial features – and this is just one link.
'There are thousands or millions of others that we are unaware of, that computers could very easily detect.'
A controversial paper investigated whether a computer could detect if a human could be a criminal, by analysing their facial features.
The 2016 study involved 1,856 faces of Chinese men aged 18 to 55, which were 'controlled' to account for 'race, gender, age and facial expressions.'
730 of the photos belonged to criminals – although the images were not mugshots.
Last year, a controversial paper was released which investigated whether a computer could detect if a human could be a criminal, by analysing their facial features. The results suggest that people with smaller mouths, curvier upper lips and closer-set eyes (pictured top), are more likely to be criminals
The images were fed into a machine learning algorithm, which used four different methods (classifiers) of analysing facial features, to infer criminality.
The researchers write: 'All four classifiers perform consistently well and produce evidence for the validity of automated face-induced inference on criminality, despite the historical controversy surrounding the topic.
'Also, we find some discriminating structural features for predicting criminality, such as lip curvature, eye inner corner distance, and the so-called nose-mouth angle.'