Imagine that your cool CSI, NCIS, Mentalist, (fill in the procedural (as in cop show, not law), detective sees a tattoo on someone, but no face. She wants to know who that person was. Quick! Check the database! Turns out MSU is developing such a thing. The article admits that a nationwide database is not on the immediate horizon, but the FBI and local agencies want it. The piece has some cultural overtones too. The researcher Anil Jain noted that one could ask
“Is this tattoo connected to a gang? Who were the previous individuals who were arrested with the same tattoo and other such information?” Jain said. “And then right away you have some information about this person. You may not know his name — the tattoo is not a unique identifier — but it can narrow down the list of identities for this particular tattoo.”
One can start to see where a person fits, or used to fit, into a social setting. Then again someone may get the tattoo just for kicks. Hmm, maybe intellectual property law will foil this one? Remember the Hangover II and the tattoo suit? I wonder whether the database will face cease and desist letters from alleged copyright and or trademark holders. Or maybe they will support the database so they can enforce their rights!
Seriously, however, I think that the use of tattoos to identify people has an established history. I am not sure whether that is just a claim in books and film. But this project seems to lend credence to the idea that those marks really do follow you forever.