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NIST Tattoo Recognition Technology Program FOIA

EFF is taking the National Institute for Standards and Technology (NIST), FBI, and DHS to court to obtain records about a program to refine automated tattoo recognition technology.

Beginning in 2014, NIST, with support from the FBI and DHS, created a multi-part technology challenge that encouraged public universities and private research institutions to sign up, access a database of 15,000 images, and refine machine learning algorithms to identify, match, and group people based on their tattoos.

This program raises major concerns for free speech, religion, and privacy because it would allow police to rapidly scan anyone's tattoos and make a myriad of assumptions about them, including incorrectly associating body art (a form of speech) with criminal activity or determining that some religious symbols are gang affiliated. Further, the database of 15,000 images provided by NIST and the FBI includes pictures of prisoner's tattoos, which raises major questions around consent and the ethics of doing research on prisoners.

That is why EFF is requesting records about the program -- to make sure that people's First Amendment rights are protected and make sure that the government isn't taking advantage of the vulnerable prison population.

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