BIG BROTHER: FBI Developing Tatoo Recognition Software

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Bruce Lee Tattoo

The government is partnering with academia and private enterprises to develop technology that would help police identify people based on their body ink.

With one in five American’s sporting ink, the FBI believes one future step in biometric identification is tattoos. According to computer scientist Mei Ngan at the National Institute for Standards and Technology (NIST), a recent “challenge” workshop was held to showcase the technology’s development.

“You can’t use it as a primary biometric like a finger print or face because it’s not necessarily uniquely identifying,” Ngan told the Washington Post. “But it can really help in cold cases where you don’t have those things.”

While tattoo recognition is less controversial than facial recognition or motion recognition, privacy advocates believe biometric technology is outpacing the law.

“People are being identified remotely without their knowledge” said Alvaro Bedoya of the Center on Privacy & Technology at Georgetown Law School. “And right now the Fourth Amendment doesn’t really say anything about that.”

Using a set of images from the FBI’s existing Next Generation Identification database, some of the systems had “hit rates well about 90 percent”, highlighting how effective the technique can be while also showing the need for further development.