An Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) investigation just revealed an awfully Orwellian fact: the FBI is working with government researchers to develop advanced tattoo recognition technology. This would allow law enforcement to sort and identify people based on their tattoos to determine “affiliation to gangs, sub-cultures, religious or ritualistic beliefs, or political ideology.”
This is unnerving to say the least. The EFF reports that law enforcement wants the new technology to decipher the tattoos that “contain intelligence, messages, meaning and motivation.” The project is part of a broader movement from American law enforcement to use advanced algorithms and big datasets to carry out their work. Civil liberties advocates fear that these projects could be flawed and biased.
The tattoo research started at the National Institute for Standards and Technology (NIST) in 2014, using a database of prisoner’s tattoos. The technology developed by NIST would “map connections between people with similarly themed tattoos or make inferences about people from their tattoos,” the EFF reports. The EFF investigation also claims that the researchers disregarded basic ethical government research standards, especially ones relating specifically to prisoners.