The FBI plans to compile a database of some 100,000 tattoo images, sourced from the Michigan State Police, Tennessee Department of Correction, and Pinellas County Sheriff's Office in Florida—and the Electronic Frontier Foundation believes the effort is "so fraught with problems" and such a threat to "our civil liberties" that the only prudent thing is to immediately halt it. The Verge very simply lays out the capabilities of and concerns with the project, which the FBI and National Institute of Standards and Technology launched in 2014 as Tatt-C and is moving into a new phase called Tatt-E: The tattoo data gained can function as a "recognition system," much the way that fingerprints do now, but the project is also looking to use algorithms to flag information held in the tattoos, such as a specific criminal affiliation or belief.
The EFF is concerned about the technology being used to profile people based on their tattoos, which would raise "significant First Amendment questions." Also, the EFF charges that the research is "lacking basic privacy safeguards" (it cites one instance in which 15,000 photos were distributed to third parties, "with little restriction on how the images may be used or shared") and that images of tattoos have been obtained under duress. Describing it as "awfully Orwellian," Gizmodo notes that the project is in line with other technologies being used by police, such as facial recognition. In a 2015 interview, Mai Ngan of the NIST told Business Insider that 20% of Americans have tattoos, but the figure swells among criminals, which fueled law enforcement's interest in tattoo-based recognition technology. (The cops got a kick out of this man's "cops suck" tattoo.)