The FBI is working on a tattoo tracking system that has privacy groups up in arms

According to research unearthed by the Electronic Frontier Foundation, the FBI has teamed with government scientists to work on a technology system designed to track tattoos.

In 2014, the Imaging wing of the the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) created the Tattoo Recognition Technology with help from the FBI. Among the group’s earliest tasks was the creation of a database compiling some 15,000 tattoo images in an attempt to develop recognition algorithms.

The concept was developed to track individuals based on commonalities, as, according to the NIST, tattoos, “suggest affiliation to gangs, subcultures, religious or ritualistic beliefs, or political ideology” along with “contain[ing] intelligence; messages, meaning and motivation.”


This is, in part, what has the EFF so concerned, due to worries about implications surrounding “free expression, religious freedom, and the right to associate.” The organization’s other major concern surrounds how the information was obtained. Among the first wave of images currently collected, “many, if not most” have been collected from prisoners, according to the EFF.

The program’s scope is expect to expand by leaps and bounds, with the NIST looking to build the database to more than 100,000 images.