Could your tattoo get you arrested?
Low angle view of a mature police officer arresting young drug dealer against blue sky

Could your tattoo get you arrested?

Your tattoos are most likely a way to express yourself. You see a design or create one, and immediately you know, you want it to be part of you for life. It speaks to you, and in some way, you feel connected to the design. Whether it evokes a feeling or a memory, you want it on your body, but do you want it to send you to jail? The NIST, (National Institute of Standards and Technology) is working on a program that may just cause that to happen.

The NIST is a non-regulatory agency of the U.S. Department of Commerce, and they’re responsible for promoting innovation and “industrial competitiveness.” Basically, it’s their job to foster awesome new technologies. Unfortunately, one of their latest projects may be a huge invasion of your privacy.

For years, tattoos have been used as identifiers. Law enforcement has used them to identify both victims of crime, and criminals. Traditionally, tattoos were labeled with keywords, but as more and more people get tattooed with more and more complex designs, the keyword method has become clumsy and less useful.

An experiment called “Tatt-E” which is short for “Tattoo Recognition Technology Evaluation” used images collected by state and local law enforcement of incarcerated people, and eventually, also 10,000 images from Flickr allowed tattoo recognition technologies accuracy to reach as much as 99% accuracy. What does that mean? It means that if you have ever been processed for any reason by law enforcement, your id is being broadcast every time you expose a tattoo. Further, it can mean that if you have ever shown your tattoo on a social media platform, that image can be used as a personal identifier.

To add to the ethical quagmire surrounding these experiments, the FBI has also sponsored a “Tattoo Recognition Project” through the NIST. This project was revealed to have skipped over a key ethical oversight process as well as privacy protections in its earlier stage called “Tatt-C.” Tatt-C, (the Tattoo Recognition Challenge) attempted to use tattoo recognition technology to scrutinize people’s beliefs and memberships, including their

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