Washington, June 20 : Identification of individuals using passport, licence etc is not a credible option as far as homeland security, identity fraud and natural disasters are concerned. But now, an automatic image retrieval system, created by an Indian-origin researcher at Michigan State University, will make things easier by enabling police to match scars, marks and tattoos to identify suspects and victims.
Anil Jain, MSU University Distinguished Professor of computer science and engineering, has said that there's a need to establish the identity of an individual based on something other than a driver's license or demographic and personal data is vital.
"Identity is usually established using passports, licenses or personal identification numbers, but these are easily forged, lost or stolen. There is a very real concern that these types of credentials for identity determination are neither sufficiently reliable nor secure. There is a need to recognize people based on physical characteristics like fingerprints, iris or face. This is the field of biometric recognition where we have been working for the past 15 years," said Jain.
Biometrics is the automatic identification of an individual based on that individual's anatomical or behavioural characteristics. And through this innovation, Jain is taking biometric recognition to the next step by adding scar, mark and tattoo recognition capability to the identification tools available to law enforcement, government and military agencies.
The system, called "Tattoo-ID," is a software program, which includes an annotated database containing images of scars, marks and tattoos, provided by law enforcement agencies. Each tattoo image in the database is linked to the criminal history records of all the suspects and convicts who have a tattoo. If users, like police officers, provide a tattoo image query, the system automatically retrieves the most similar tattoo images from the database along with the linked criminal history records.
"The number of people getting tattoos is rapidly growing. About 20 percent of the population has at least one tattoo, and this percentage is even higher among delinquents. In fact, many gangs have a unique membership tattoo. So, with the rising popularity of tattoos, it makes sense to put these markers to good use. Presently, the only way to identify someone from his or her tattoo is to look through books the size of a phone book and try to visually match tattoos based on some keywords. This takes a lot of time, and the process is often inaccurate," said Jain.
This system compares a suspect or a victim's distinguishing marks with a database and finds out the suspect's identity with very high accuracy. While a scar, mark or tattoo cannot uniquely identify a person, it can help the authorities confine the list of potential identities; it can indicate membership in a gang, social and religious group or military unit.
"This system has huge implications for helping law enforcement with suspect and victim identification," said Jain.
He said that in case an officer arrests a person who does not have any identifying documents and uses a pseudonym, but has a tattoo belonging to a known gang, the tattoo gives additional evidence to identify which group this person belongs to. The system will help law enforcement agencies to quickly identify and apprehend criminal suspects.
"A body can decompose quickly, particularly in adverse climate conditions, making it difficult to perform face or fingerprint identification. Because tattoo pigments are deeply embedded in the skin, even severe skin burns often do not destroy tattoos. If there are distinguishing tattoos, it can be crucial evidence in identifying a victim," said Jain.
With increased awareness for using tattoos for suspect and victim identification among the law enforcement agencies, even FBI's Next Generation Identification system has called for an automatic image retrieval system for scars, marks and tattoos.
"Such a system will be of great societal value," said Jain.