By Barry Eitel
SAN FRANCISCO (AA) – The FBI is developing a tattoo recognition program to chart criminal affiliations, according to a report released Thursday by digital activist group Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF).
The bureau, in 2014, began working on the tattoo identification software, officially known as Tattoo Recognition Technology Challenge or codenamed Tatt-C.
During the summer, the bureau wants to vastly expand the program and hopes to compile 100,000 images of tattoos provided by law enforcement groups including the Michigan State Police, Tennessee Department of Corrections and Pinellas County Sheriff's Office in Florida, the report said.
Since many gangs and criminal organizations, including the Russian mafia and several white supremacist groups, utilize tattoos as signifiers, the FBI hopes to create a database to identify and study organized criminal activity.
The EFF is concerned that the program is unconstitutional because tattoos are more than just biometric characteristics of an individual – they are expressive choices.
“Importantly, tattoos are also speech, and any attempt to identify, profile sort, or link people based on their ink raises significant First Amendment questions,” EFF’s Dave Maass and Aaron Mackey wrote the group’s report.
The First Amendment to the Constitution ensures the protection of the freedom of speech, among other rights.
In developing the system, the FBI and the National Institute for Standards and Technology (NIST), created technology that can chart connections between similarly tattooed individuals to infer personal information such as political or religious ideology.
All of that information can be deciphered, EFF argues, because tattoos are “free speech we wear on our skin,” according to the report.
The activists are also incensed because, during the program’s development, tattoo images from inmates was passed around to various law enforcement agencies and third party contractors without disclosing the knowledge to the prisoners.
“Officials must suspend any further research into tattoo recognition technology until they address the First Amendment, ethical, and privacy concerns EFF has identified,” Maass and Mackey said.