October 15, 2012

"Fingerprinting Objects for the Control of Illegal Trafficking" by Dr. W. (Bill) Wei in The Journal of Art Crime, Fall 2012

In the Fall 2012 issue of The Journal of Art Crime, Dr. W. (Bill) Wei writes on "Fingerprinting Objects for the Control of Illegal Trafficking":
One of the main problems in the fight against the illegal trafficking of objects of cultural heritage is their irrefutable identification. Provenances, photographs, expert testimonials and other written documents can always be fabricated or forged. This makes it difficult for customs officials, law enforcement agencies, and hoest buyers and sellers to determine if an objects has been illegally acquired. An excellent solution to this problem has been provided by a recently completed European project, FINGaRtPRINT. It makes use of the non-contact measurement of the micro-roughness of an object at a location selected by the owner. The micro-roughness can be measured on a scale of less than a micrometer (thousandth of a millimeter), that, is, less than the size of a pigment particle. At that scale, the roughness is unique and can thus serve as an identifying "fingerprint" of the object. It is not forgeable, assuming that a criminal even knows where on the object it was taken. The fingerprint can thus serve as a key component of an "object passport" which can be used to control the sale and purchase of objects. While some optimization work is necessary, the major obstacle to the successful application of the FINGaRtPRINT system is the long process is required for the development and acceptance of international laws for illegal trafficking. The partners of the FINGaRtPRINT project are therefore looking to private investors, collectors, and museums to develop an international fingerprint/passport system in order to accelerate this law making process.
Bill Wei is a senior conservation scientist for the Netherlands Institute for Cultural Heritage.  He has a B. S. E. in Mechanical Engineering (Princeton University, USA 1977), and a Ph.D. in Materials Science (University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, USA 1983).  Dr. Wei was initiator and head of the FINGaRtPRINT project and is coordinator of the ICOM-CC Working Group Legal Issues in Conservation.  His research includes the effect of aging and treatments on the appearance and perception of objects of cultural heritage, and the effect of vibrations on their condition.

You may read this article by subscribing to The Journal of Art Crime through the ARCA website.