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FBI To Add Tattoos To Biometric ID Capabilities

Agency solicits information on using tattoo databases as part of a broader effort to expand its biometric identification platform and services.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation is looking to add tattoos to its portfolio of human identifying characteristics, and it's reaching out to industry for information on how to do that, according to a request for information.

The FBI's Biometric Center of Excellence (BCOE) is seeking information regarding existing databases of tattoos, according to the July 13 RFI, which was posted on the Federal Business Opportunities website, FBO.gov, and first reported by NextGov.

The FBI has a list of questions for industry and law enforcement agencies on tattoo databases, including whether "possible meanings and gang affiliations" are provided and whether gang experts are involved in that analysis. The RFI inquires about the underlying database technology, how information is extracted, and standards for metadata and images.

The FBI describes BCOE as a "one-stop shop for biometric collaboration and expertise." Best known for its fingerprint and DNA identification services, the center is also developing capabilities in voice, iris, and other identifying characteristics. In the area of emerging biometrics, it's exploring footprints and hand geometry.

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Tattoo recognition is part of the FBI's Next General Identification program, a multiyear initiative to develop ID capabilities beyond fingerprints and criminal mug shots. On July 18, Jerome Pender, deputy assistant director of the FBI's Criminal Justice Information Service division, told a Senate subcommittee that three phases of the program are in development, including one focusing on scars, marks, and tattoos. The capability to support that is scheduled for deployment in the summer of 2014.

Tattoo databases are available from a variety of sources. For example, the Anti-Defamation League's website has a collection of extremist tattoos and other symbols, and GangInk--a national effort by ChicagoGangs.org--chronicles gang tattoos from across the country.

The tattoo database RFI seeks information on privacy implications, policy, and special circumstances, such as when tattoos are located in "sensitive" areas. BCOE is "committed to the protection of individual privacy rights and civil liberties," according to its website.

Tattoos are already being used by federal officials in some cross-border screenings. The Wall Street Journal reported July 11 that some immigrants have been denied permanent residency based on the tattoos suspected of representing gang affiliations.

Contributing writer Dan Taylor is managing editor of Inside the Navy.

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