The National Institute for Standards and Technology issued this response to our report (part 1, part 2) on its Tattoo Recognition Research program. 

NIST has a long history of cutting edge research and evaluations in the field of image processing. Several of these projects have assisted law enforcement agencies in advancing pattern analysis in fields such as fingerprint and ballistics matching and facial recognition. In 2014, NIST began working on a project to evaluate automated, image-based tattoo recognition technologies.

The project uses a database of tattoo images to fairly and reproducibly assess which algorithms from companies and research groups produce the highest-quality matches. The goal of the NIST project is to help ensure tattoo matching technologies are evaluated using sound science to improve accuracy and minimize mismatches. NIST communications materials (e.g., presentations, reports) have been updated to more clearly reflect the intent of this project.

NIST’s work on this project does not involve the use of human subjects as defined by federal regulations. The database contains images only, with no accompanying information on the individuals whose tattoos were photographed.

The project has been reviewed and determined to not meet the criteria for human subjects research as defined by federal regulations. The NIST project is about measuring the effectiveness of algorithms for accurately matching digital images. The NIST project is not about the many complex law enforcement policies or approaches that may be related to images of tattoos.

We are reviewing the EFF report and will carefully consider their concerns.