Ever since President Obama signed National Defense Authorization Act into law, U.S. law enforcement and military agencies have begun to document everything they can about American citizens. Whether it is the new biometric database that the FBI has started, or the use of military spy drones domestically. Just this week, the firm D-Star Engineering has received what appears to be the first contract (for $4.8 million) awarded under the Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Agency’s Great Horned Owl program to develop a new class of quiet small unmanned aircraft.
Now, the FBI is consulting local police and vendors about new technology already at their disposable that would allow them to identify anyone by interpreting the symbolism of their tattoos.
According to recently released government documents, last week the FBI issued a request for information on existing databases “containing tattoo/symbol images, their possible meanings, gang affiliations, terrorist groups or other criminal organizations.” The request asks that all law enforcement agencies, vendors and academics to supply by Aug. 13 information about the capabilities of tattoo analysis systems. This follows work already underway by the FBI and Homeland Security Department to add iris and facial recognition services to their respective fingerprint databases.
Already, the FBI has amassed a large collection of biometric markers, including vocal tracks and handwriting samples. The question is who will the FBI and DHS target and how citizens can be sure that the government will not misuse this technology against innocent people. Another goal is to find out how tattoo databases draw on the knowledge of gang experts and how they may be used to document “possible meanings and gang affiliations” observed by officials nationwide.
Unfortunately, the overreaching activities of the FBI and DHS under the Obama administration raise major privacy and liberty concerns. Many of the activities described in the document, just like their online activities, are basic practices of any individual concerned with security or privacy. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security and Bureau have already stoked considerable privacy concerns from groups such as the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) and the Electronic Frontier Foundation have called for more transparency and oversight of such monitoring activities.