iPhone iris scanner ready to track criminals

Posted by Lydia Leavitt

Law enforcement officials across the nation are preparing to adopt a new facial-scanning device designed specifically for the iPhone.

The biometric technology - dubbed Mobile Offender Recognition and Information System (MORIS) - is an iris scanner that fits over an iPhone and allows police to identify and track alleged criminals by snapping a photo of their face.

The scanner detects unique markers within a person's eyes and facial structure, subsequently running a search via the U.S. criminal database.

The iris scanner is said to be much faster, accurate and more portable than traditional fingerprinting tools. However, at a price tag of $3,000, the iris scanner isn't nearly as cheap.

Biometric technology is a hotly debated subject, as critics believe police may take to randomly scanning people without probable cause, particularly former criminals, sex offenders, and undocumented workers.

The device is capable of scanning a facial photo from up to four feet away, which would make scanning crowds a possibility even if a crime has not been committed.

Although a valid concern, MORIS manufacturer BI2 CEO Sean Mullin says it's difficult to covertly photograph a person's face without their consent.

"It requires a level of cooperation that makes it very overt - a person knows that you're taking a picture for this purpose," Mullin said.

But how hard is it for police to coerce a citizen into cooperation?

Those against the technology believe there needs to be some kind of probable cause requirement before police deploy the scanner.

"What we don't want is for them to become a general surveillance tool, where the police start using them routinely on the general public, collecting biometric information on innocent people," Jay Stanley, senior policy analyst with the national ACLU in Washington, D.C., told Reuters.

Those in favor of the device argue that it's simply an easier way to implement technology police already have.

"This is (the technology) stepping out of the cruiser and riding on the officer's belt, along with his flashlight, his handcuffs, his sidearm or the other myriad tools," said John Birtwell, spokesman for the Plymouth County Sheriff's Department in southeastern Massachusetts, a precinct already using the device.

Despite ongoing debate and concern that the technology is not always accurate, up to 40 law enforcement offices will adopt the iris scanner. As more police departments adopt the technology, hopefully laws surrounding its use will emerge to ensure the device is being deployed in the right way. 

(Via Reuters