Tattoo Recognition Technology is Gaining Acceptance as a Crime-Solving Technique
Hodge, Samuel D., Jr.
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Tattoos offer a wealth of information gleaned through a simple visual examination. This visualization can help police evaluate the tattoo’s location, design, colors, and any other physical characteristics to identify the person captured on video surveillance. Tattoos are also helpful in identifying a corpse where more traditional tools such as facial features or fingerprints are unsuitable. Conventional databases, such as fingerprints, facial images, DNA profiles, and dental records, are of limited use if the victim or culprit does not have a profile on record. A person’s tattoos, however, are frequently recognized by many people, whether a family member, acquaintance, co-worker, or tattoo artist. Tattoos provide helpful information, such as gang affiliation, religious beliefs, prior convictions, and years spent in jail. Digital technology now provides the police with the ability to identify individuals by taking an image of their tattoos and identifying groups of people from others who have the same body art. This method is dubbed “Tattoo Recognition Technology” (“TRT”), and it is an “emerging field in biometrics.” The process works similarly to facial recognition technology. The first step is to capture a picture of the tattoo. This depiction is then processed in the computer system, where the recognition software creates a mathematical representation of the inking. This depiction is compared to the images in the database for a match. This Article will explain the growing use of biometrics in law enforcement with a detailed examination of one of the least known techniques, tattoo recognition technology. A history of this body art form will be presented along with an explanation of the tattoo process. The science behind how tattoos can lead to a person’s identification will be explored. The last section will discuss the various legal issues that arise involving tattoos, from employment discrimination to whether tattoo recognition software violates a person’s constitutional rights.