FBI tipped to be making powerful ‘tattoo recognition technology’

Brittany A. Roston - Jun 2, 2016, 4:50 pm CDT
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FBI tipped to be making powerful ‘tattoo recognition technology’

Before getting my first tattoo, I joked that I was about to make any potential future as a fugitive from the law a lot harder. Tattoos, even trendy ones picked from the same book used by hundreds of other people, can be highly personal — not just in what it means to a person, but in how much it helps identify that individual. Even small elements can say quite a bit about the person who got it, and the FBI is reportedly developing a technology that can exploit these unspoken cues.

According to the Electronic Frontier Foundation, an investigation it has conducted found that the Federal Bureau of Investigation is developing a sophisticated ‘tattoo recognition technology’ that can used automated computer algorithms to find potential meanings, connections and more behind someone’s tattoos.

The technology is reportedly being created by government scientists, and isn’t merely a database for connecting a person with a tattoo — instead, it is described as aiming to find possible connections between people who have similar tattoos, identifying possible things about that person such as their religion or their political stances. According to the EFF, many of the experiments these developers are using involve tattoo images featuring “Christian iconography.”

The investigative report goes on to say that many of the tattoos being used were ‘obtained coercively’ via inmates and those who have been arrested, and that about 15,000 of those tattoos were then given over to third parties, violating the individuals’ privacy. The NIST is said to be heavily involved in this program, and to have only asked permission of supervisors after wrapping up the first ‘major’ experiment batch.

Disturbingly enough, the EFF says, “NIST and the FBI are treating inmates as an endless supply of free data.”


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