Computer IDs Culprits With Tattoo Recognition


Francie Diep

It’s a plot point in countless detective shows and movies. An investigator finds fingerprints at a crime scene, scans the prints into a computer, and automatically finds matches in a huge FBI database. Now, researchers are working on technology making it just as simple for law enforcement to scan in and find not only matches for suspects’ photos, but also their body ink.

The face might be the obvious place to start for Facebook, homeland security and other groups interested in automatically identifying people in photos. Indeed, face recognition is one of the biggest areas of research in identification and security. Adding in tattoos and other marks, however, gives law enforcement an edge in using evidence where the suspect’s face isn’t clear.

“Let’s talk about standard police-type action,” said Terrance Boult, a computer science professor at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs and a co-founder of a security startup, Securics Inc. In many police investigations, he said, officers have to contend with grainy, low-quality photos that a bystander might have taken on his phone, or that a store camera captured. “Those photos are often so bad that face recognition wouldn’t come even close” to finding a match in a photo database, such as the FBI’s.

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