FBI and government scientists allegedly testing tattoo recognition tech on inmates

fbi testing tattoo recognition tech inmates
Kelvyn Skee/Flickr
The FBI and the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), an agency of the Department of Commerce, are developing tattoo detection technology and testing it on prisoners, according to an investigation by the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF).

Government scientists are working with the FBI to create algorithms that can identify tattoos on a person’s skin and attribute it to a certain ideology, religion, or even gang. More than 15,000 images were gathered and used in the experiments.

The tattoos can be used to profile inmates. However, the EFF claims that this was done without the prisoners’ consent and breaches the rules of ethical research and the Common Rule for using human subjects.

NIST researchers are “treating inmates as a bottomless pool of free data,” said the digital rights organization, which has accused the researchers of failing to take the necessary ethical steps that are in place to prevent the exploitation of prisoners.

According to documents obtained by EFF under Freedom of Information, NIST failed to disclose initially that prisoners had been used in its first experiment titled “Tatt-C.” It adds that personal identifying information (PII) was not removed from the data.

Tattoo data from the research has since been shared with 19 third party bodies, including companies like Albany, New York-based MorphoTrak, which sells biometric technology to law enforcement.

“NIST’s failure to follow the Common Rule’s oversight requirements is not some procedural hiccup. Inmates are unable to opt out of law enforcement taking photos of their tattoos in a correctional setting,” said EFF’s Dave Maass and Aaron Mackey. “Worse, the images are now being used for an entirely different purpose and it is highly unlikely that the FBI sought informed consent before handing over the images to third parties for research.”

This raises several concerns over scientific ethics and human rights, they add, especially when for-profit businesses have received the data and could benefit financially.

The FBI has been under public scrutiny of late for its use of biometric databases that it keeps, going as far as to request they are exempt from new forthcoming laws that could make their details public.

“In discussions with EFF, NIST has indicated that it is looking more closely at the project, but has given no public indication that it will take any action to delay or suspend the program,” Maass and Mackey said. As of now, NIST will continue with its next scheduled tattoo experiment later this summer. EFF intends to fight the experiment going ahead.

Emerging Tech

This startup will sequence your entire genome for free — but there’s a catch

Want to get your DNA sequenced but don’t want to shell out the hundred bucks or so to do so? A new startup called Nebula Genomics offers you the opportunity to have it done for free.
Movies & TV

Stay inside this fall with the best shows on Hulu, including 'Castle Rock'

It's often overwhelming to navigate Hulu's robust library of TV shows. To help, we've put together a list of the best shows on Hulu, whether you're into frenetic cartoons, intelligent dramas, or anything in between.
Movies & TV

The best shows on Netflix, from 'The Haunting of Hill House’ to ‘The Good Place’

Looking for a new show to binge? Lucky for you, we've curated a list of the best shows on Netflix, whether you're a fan of outlandish anime, dramatic period pieces, or shows that leave you questioning what lies beyond.
Emerging Tech

Stronger than steel, thinner than paper, graphene could be the future of tech

Since its discovery, graphene has set the research world on fire. What exactly is it, though, and what could it mean for the future of tech? Here's everything you need to know about what could be the next supermaterial to take center stage.
Movies & TV

'Prime'-time TV: Here are the best shows on Amazon Prime right now

There's more to Amazon Prime than free two-day shipping, including access to a number of phenomenal shows at no extra cost. To make the sifting easier, here are our favorite shows currently streaming on Amazon Prime.
Emerging Tech

DJI Mavic 2 Pro vs Mavic 2 Zoom: What’s the real difference?

DJI's Mavic 2 series drones are ready to fly -- but which one is right for you? The Mavic 2 Pro and Mavic 2 Zoom are nearly identical save for their cameras. Here's what you need to know about these powerful new UAVs.
Emerging Tech

Students who designed transforming smart home will compete in Solar Decathalon

Modular smart homes are all the rage, and now some students from Virginia Tech are putting their money on their FutureHAUS, a modular, solar-powered, transforming smart home they're taking to the Solar Decathlon in Dubai.
Emerging Tech

Here’s all the best tech gear and gadgetry that survived Shark Tank

The television show "Shark Tank" has churned out quite a few strange, interesting, and downright awesome products -- so we rounded up some of the best ones for your perusal. Enjoy!
Emerging Tech

Hotter than the sun: Chinese fusion reactor claims breakthrough

China’s “artificial sun” has reached a temperature of 180 million ºF with a heating power of 10 megawatts -- six times hotter than the center of the sun. The achievement could mark progress towards fusion as a clean energy source.
Emerging Tech

Hope it doesn’t melt! Rocket to ISS carries vital supplies — including ice cream

A rocket has launched over Virginia's eastern shore, carrying supplies to the International Space Station (ISS). Inside the spacecraft are supplies for the ISS itself and the crew onboard, such as scientific equipment and food.
Emerging Tech

‘Super-Earth’ discovered orbiting nearby star

Astronomers have discovered a large planet circling a sun nearby to Earth called Barnard's Star. The potential new planet is thought to be cold and icy and has a size of around 3.2 times the Earth.
Emerging Tech

OSIRIS-REx spacecraft successfully tests its asteroid-sampling arm

The OSIRIS-REx spacecraft, launched in September 2016, is closing in on its target of the Bennu asteroid. The craft has now unfurled its robotic arm, called the Touch-and-Go Sample Acquisition Mechanism (TAGSAM), and tested it successfully.
Emerging Tech

Microsoft’s friendly new A.I wants to figure out what you want — before you ask

Move over Siri and Alexa! Microsoft wants to build a new type of virtual assistant that wants to be your friend. Already making waves in Asia, could this be the future of A.I. BFFs?
Emerging Tech

Awesome Tech You Can’t Buy Yet: A.I. selfie drones, ‘invisible’ wireless chargers

Check out our roundup of the best new crowdfunding projects and product announcements that hit the web this week. You may not be able to buy this stuff yet, but it sure is fun to gawk!