The Cops Are Tracking Your Tattoos

The FBI is hoping to track gang members with tattoos, but they may be you as well.

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Your tattoo may be as innocuous as an flower on your ankle or a barbed wire around your bicep. But it may also be a cultural, religious or political symbol that you'd be reluctant for the cops to know about.

Although law enforcement has long been interested in tattoos, especially in gang investigations, they have recently been looking to automate the process. That means moving away from binders with photographs of tattoos and toward computerized databases that can analyze similarities in design. The process is called bio-metrics, and law enforcement has already been using it to digitally scan your fingerprints, faces and irises to easily ascertain your identity.

"The one thing that makes tattoos different is that they're elective," says Dave Maass, an investigative researcher at the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF). "You choose to put them on you because they are something you want to express about yourself."

That's why Maass says using a database of tattoos may be putting innocent people with tattoos unnecessarily under the microscope of law enforcement.

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