U.S. Relax Body-Modifying Regulation for Personnel Entering the Military: Floodgates Open to Emerging Electronic Tattoos for ID, Exoskeletons, Brain Implants and Beyond
US military regulations for the four armed forces has always been very clear about tattoos regarding new personnel entering the ranks or for those already enlisted [[i]]. In short, the mentality has been one of uniformity, the ‘one group’ mantra, that says ‘you are all on the same side, you act as one, and anything different is unacceptable’. But since the new fashion of tattooing has taken root predominantly by Millennials, a subculture has emerged that says “this is my body and I will do with it what I want without your limitations.” It has meant that the US Military in particular given its diversity of citizenry has had to rethink its policies. When 30% of young males eligible to be recruited into the Forces are wearing a tattoo, your pool of prospective personnel is significantly reduced. If your rule of thumb hasn’t kept pace with the trends of the day, then as a military you are forced to make some very drastic changes [[ii]]. The new regulation now states that for the Army, soldiers can now get their arms, legs and most of their bodies covered in tattoos. That is a far cry from the very strict regulations that limited tattoos to where they could be concealed. Face, neck and hand tattoos, however, remain against regulation, with the exception of a ring tattoo in each hand. Additionally, tattoos that are racist or sexist are still outlawed [[iii]]. For a short time, the regulation had been revised, incrementally getting stricter and more specified, to allow soldiers to wear four tattoos below the elbow or knee not bigger than a hand-span but this was difficult to enforce. Still problematic for military recruiters, the US Armed Forces that consist of the Army [[iv]], Marine Corps, Navy [v], Air Force [[vi]] and Coast Guard, have revised their regulations (e.g. see Army Regulation 670 -1) to give soldiers greater freedoms in their appearance.
But these changes may well suit the military with the advent of emerging technologies such as electronic tattoos possibly replacing the century old dog tag introduced in the early 1900s, known as identity discs. There are also exoskeletons in full experimental phases for various military applications that are worn, and even brain implants in their nascent research phase for overcoming post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and memory loss that pierce beneath the skin. Thus, relaxing the regulation for wearing tattoos, now means that the US military is not in breach of its own regulation in instituting trials that require the wearing or even bearing of new emerging technologies. The question is whether or not a soldier who is asked to wear or bear a device that will invariably be interconnected, has a choice to opt-out for a favoured alternative. However, it seems highly unlikely that any form of resistance from soldiers will be acceptable. The response might well be from the military, “if we let you wear tattoos, or bear other types of chips for convenience, then what’s the difference if we tag you with an electronic ID for your own welfare, and possibly ask you to bear a brain implant as well if you need it in the course of duty or as a veteran”? Increasingly, this seems a plausible scenario, despite the doubters who said: “it will never happen”.
Biography: Katina Michael is a professor in the School of Computing and Information Technology at the University of Wollongong. She is the IEEE Technology and Society Magazine editor-in-chief and also serves as the senior editor of the IEEE Consumer Electronics Magazine. Since 2008 she has been a board member of the Australian Privacy Foundation, and also served as Vice-Chair. She has also completed studies in Transnational Crime Prevention in the Faculty of Law, at the University of Wollongong. She studies the social implications of emerging technologies predominantly within a national security context. Her annual SINS (social implications of national security) workshop began in 2006 under the then ARC-RNSA Research Network for a Secure Australia (Human Factors group). www.katinamichael.com
[ii] David Vergun, March 31, 2014, “Army tightens personal appearance, tattoo policy”, https://www.army.mil/article/122978/Army_tightens_personal_appearance__tattoo_policy
[iii] Staff Report, April 10, 2015, “It's official: Army issues new tattoo rules”, Army Times, http://www.armytimes.com/story/military/careers/army/2015/04/10/army-regs-tattoos-uniforms/25576197/
[iv] Luke Villaplaz, November 4, 2015, “US Army Tattoo Policy 2015: Military Relaxes Rules and Regulations For Army Soldiers”, International Business Times, http://www.ibtimes.com/us-army-tattoo-policy-2015-military-relaxes-rules-regulations-army-soldiers-1878378
[v] Mark D. Faram, March 31, 2016, “The Navy just approved the military's best tattoo rules”, Navy Times, http://www.navytimes.com/story/military/2016/03/31/navy-just-approved-militarys-best-tattoo-rules/82425974/
[vi] Oriana Pawlyk, April 5, 2016,“Air Force to review its tattoo policy”, AirForce Times, http://www.airforcetimes.com/story/military/2016/04/05/air-force-review-its-tattoo-policy/32575947/
Melbourne, 29–30 May 2017, University of Melbourne, PREMT, Future of War