This study aims to explore the ethical and social issues of tattoo recognition technology (TRT) and tattoo similarity detection technology (TSDT), which are expected to be increasingly used by state and local police departments and law enforcement agencies.
The paper investigates the new ethical concerns raised by tattoo-based biometrics on a comparative basis with face-recognition biometrics.
TRT raises much more ethically sensitive issues than face recognition, because tattoos are meaningful biometric traits, and tattoo identification is tantamount to the identification of many more personal features that normally would have remained invisible. TSDT’s assumption that classifying people in virtue of their visible features is useful to foretell their attitudes and behaviours is dangerously similar to racist thought.
The findings hope to promote an active debate on the ethical and social aspects of tattoo-based biometrics before it is intensely implemented by law enforcement agencies.
Tattooed individuals – inasmuch as they are more controlled and monitored – are negatively discriminated in comparison to un-tattooed individuals. As tattooing is not uniformly distributed among population, many demographic groups like African–Americans will be overrepresented in tattoos databases used by TRT and TSDT, thus being affected by disproportionately higher risk to be found as a match for a given suspect.
TRT and TSDT represent one of the new frontiers of biometrics. The ethical and social issues raised by TRT and TSDT are currently unexplored.
The authors would like to thank Massimo Tistarelli for his generous support. Thanks also go to Josep Lluis de la Rosa i Esteva and his research group of the University of Girona who provided insight and expertise that greatly assisted our work. This work has been fully supported by the IDENTITY Project - Computer Vision Enabled Multimedia Forensics and People Identification, H2020-MSCA-RISE-2015, n. 690907.
Bacchini, F. and Lorusso, L. (2018), "A tattoo is not a face. Ethical aspects of tattoo-based biometrics", Journal of Information, Communication and Ethics in Society, Vol. 16 No. 2, pp. 110-122. https://doi.org/10.1108/JICES-05-2017-0029Download as .RIS
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