Tattoos are becoming more popular than ever before, as people want to express themselves in a creative way. At the same time, getting a tattoo also means dealing with the stigma of illegal activity and being “up to no good”. Now that the FBI plans to create a new database filled with tattoo designs, privacy may be at risk as well.

It is not the first time this topic is touched upon, as the FBI partnered with NIST in 2014 to start building this tattoo database. Tattoo Recognition Technology, as this program is called, included cataloging roughly 15,000 tattoo designs in an attempt to recognize distinct patterns moving forward.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation is very concerned about this initiative, especially when considering how one in five US adults has a tattoo. Every inked masterpiece tells a story, whether it is religion, belief, or gang affiliation. Moreover, the FBI believes tattoos contain intelligence and meaning, which would help them in establishing future pattern recognition.

As is the case with every privacy story involving the FBI, the question becomes how they obtained the information in their database. Biased sources and unreliable informants will not provide the right results, which could lead to the FBI wrongfully arrested people based on their tattoos. Technology can’t fix half-assed information, unfortunately.

According to the EFF, most of these images are likely to be collected from prisoners. However, not all of those tattoos are gang related or mean anything illegal per se. Incorrect interpretation of this database will lead to a lot of trouble down the line for the FBI, and they will need to tread very carefully.


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