Stop the Government’s Tattoo Recognition Experiments

Government researchers and the FBI are trying to crack the codes in our tattoos. They’re developing tattoo recognition technology with the aim of using our ink to reveal who we are, what we believe, and who we’re connected to. These experiments exploit prisoners without proper oversight and with little regard for privacy, civil liberties, or human dignity.

The good news is we may have time to stop it.

We won!

Flooded with emails from the public, NIST began rethinking the process for protecting privacy.

Imagine that you’ve been arrested or sentenced to prison, and law enforcement officers made you lift your shirt, roll up your sleeves, and pull up your pant legs to take photos of your tattoos. You’d be outraged to learn that those images were not only shared with scientific researchers without your consent, but handed out to a large number of third parties—including private companies—and possibly published online.

That’s the type of research the National Institute for Standards and Technology (NIST) and the FBI are conducting with thousands of prisoner tattoos as part of a “Tattoo Recognition Technology” program.

In 2014, NIST and the FBI launched the program to improve algorithms that law enforcement can use to learn as much as possible about your identity, personal beliefs, and interests based on your tattoos. Ultimately, this technology could allow police to use mobile devices that instantly analyze our tattoos and understand what they mean. It could even link you to people with similar tattoos.

This research is irresponsible and is a serious threat to our privacy and First Amendment rights. Researchers experimented with tattoos that contained religious imagery and personal information, without thinking through the ethical and constitutional issues at stake. Not only that, NIST researchers failed to provide safeguards for the prisoners subject to the research, despite ethical rules requiring greater oversight.

This summer NIST plans to launch the next stage of the research. The good news is there’s still time to stop it. Email NIST today to demand accountability.

For more information:
Why EFF is calling for NIST to suspend its tattoo recognition research.

Five ways law enforcement wants to use tattoo recognition based on the NIST experiments.