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Jan. 19, 2010

MSU licenses tattoo-matching technology to ID criminals, victims

EAST LANSING, Mich. — Michigan State University has licensed unique tattoo matching technology to MorphoTrak, the world’s top provider of biometric and identity management systems.

Corrections and law enforcement officials will now have the capability to search tattoo image databases to help identify suspects, criminals and victims.

This technology uses features such as tattoo color, shape and texture to compute the similarity between images and was developed by Anil K. Jain, University Distinguished Professor of computer science and engineering at MSU. An internationally recognized leader in biometrics and pattern recognition research, Jain has earned multiple awards for his contributions and leads MSU’s research in this field.

“This technology is an invaluable tool to assist law enforcement with intelligence gathering for suspect and victim identification,” Jain said. “We trust MorphoTrak to bring this technology to bear at all levels of the law enforcement community.”

“MorphoTrak understands the importance of joining forces with our nation’s top academic institutions to help extend crime fighting capabilities with groundbreaking technologies,” said Daniel Vassy, president and CEO of MorphoTrak. “We are uniquely positioned in the industry to bring this technology to market to assist law enforcement and corrections agencies in making our streets safer.”

More than 36 percent of individuals between ages 18 and 40 have at least one tattoo, according to a 2006 Pew Research Center survey. This proportion is much higher among criminals and criminal gangs, and law enforcement agencies have collected images of tattoos for many years.

“With the increased awareness of the value of matching tattoos for suspect and victim identification, and associating tattoos to particular gang affiliation, automatic image retrieval and indexing capabilities may be integrated into the FBI’s Next Generation Identification system later in this decade to serve as another valuable tool for the criminal justice community,” said Peter Higgins of Higgins and Associates, International. He is also the former deputy assistant director in charge of the FBI’s Integrated Automated Fingerprint Identification Systems program.

The tattoo matching team at MSU includes Jain; Rong Jin, associate professor of computer science and engineering; Jung-Eun Lee, computer science and engineering doctoral student; and Nicholas Gregg, undergraduate student in computer science and engineering. They worked closely with the Michigan State Police Forensic Science Division and Inspector Greg Michaud, assistant division commander, who with his colleagues provided a database of tattoo images as well as valuable suggestions.

MorphoTrak, a subsidiary of Safran USA, provides biometric and identity management solutions to the U.S. and Canadian markets. MorphoTrak and its global parent Sagem Sécurité are leading innovators in large fingerprint identification systems, facial and iris recognition, and identification licenses.


Michigan State University has been advancing knowledge and transforming lives through innovative teaching, research and outreach for more than 150 years. MSU is known internationally as a major public university with global reach and extraordinary impact. Its 17 degree-granting colleges attract scholars worldwide who are interested in combining education with practical problem solving.