PUBLISHED:13:30 EST, 9 September 2012| UPDATED:14:25 EST, 9 September 2012
Police may soon be able to catch criminals by the ink they are sporting.
Computer scientists are developing a new program that will be able to identify suspects by their tattoos and match them to photos in police databases or on social media.
Automatic identification through recognition of body art could provide a much needed breakthrough in detective work, often thwarted by grainy footage from surveillance videos that make it difficult to see a criminal’s face to use facial recognition.
‘Those photos are often so bad that face recognition wouldn’t come even close’ to finding a match in a database, Terrance Boult, a computer science professor at the University of Colorado, explained to Live Science.
To rectify this problem, Boult worked with a team of researchers to develop a computer program that reviews body ink, scars, moles and visible skin markings in photos.
The program scans images for these identifiable skin symbols and then looks for people bearing the same markings in a photo database.
The program is designed to pick up patterns in tattoos and could even link together members of gangs, who often share body tags.
Though this isn’t the first program to examine body markings for identification, the computer program was designed to better handle low quality photos, like those taken from a smart phone.
Body art: Police could use technology to find criminals by their body art. A man (left) shows off his ink, as does Michelle ‘Bombshell’ McGee (right), the tattooed model who had an affair with Jesse James
The pictures, captured ‘in the wild,’ according to Notre Dame computer scientist Kevin Bowyer, could greatly enhance police ability to solve crimes.
It will also allow police to search by eye witness account, just based off a description from a bystander.
‘The idea of detecting markings on the skin and using them as a way to recognize people has emerged as an interesting new research topic in recent years,’ Kevin Bowyer, a Notre Dame computer scientist, told Live Science.
The new program designed by Boult and his team, ‘introduces improvements that are meant to move past proof-of-concept toward more practical tools,’ Bowyer added.
Boult and his team will introduce their computer system on September 25 at a conference in Washington, D.C., organized by the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers.
The new developments in body art recognition comes in the wake of news that the FBI plans to upgrade its database of criminals’ faces.
The $1 billion scheme will help officials fight crime by matching surveillance photographs with images of known offenders and will use several hi-tech identification measures such as DNA analysis, voice recognition and iris scans to help fight crimes.
But some fear the new ‘national photographic database’ will encroach on the privacy of the innocent.