updated 11:20 pm EDT, Tue July 12, 2011
MORIS iPhone add-on raises police, privacy issues
A divisive iPhone add-on from BI2 Technologies is about to reach police in a way that could challenge civil rights. The MORIS case, already used in the military and a few limited areas, will let officers snap a photo of a person's face from up to five feet away and automatically cross-check it against a police database to see if it's a known suspect or if the person has a criminal history. If they have strong reason to believe a person is a suspect, they can even scan the iris from six inches away.
About 1,000 of the devices are due to reach 40 police organizations as soon as September. Each costs $3,000 and will eventually be available for Android.
MORIS raises issues through its implications for government surveillance and privacy. In addition to the risk of constant monitoring, the distance also raises issues of violating constitutional rights over reasonable search. A regular photo might require that police have proof of reasonable suspicion that someone is a criminal and could bring up claims of harassment or invalidate evidence. An iris-level investigation would raise more concerns again since a police officer could get in trouble if they force a person to cooperate in the scan.
The photo capturing technique hasn't been significantly tested in court, and the question of its validity has been likened to the precedent set by fingerprints. MORIS itself can take fingerprints if the optics aren't feasible, such as at night.
BI2 is careful to note that it doesn't control the data and can't misuse it. Virtually all of the data will be from prison databases, although concerns exist over plans to include mug shots. The company also said it planned to expand to include state- or country-wide police databases, up to and including state DMVs and the FBI. These last methods could raise the most issues, since an officer could get personally identifying information about an innocent person, such as people who spotted police officers abusing their authority, and intimidate the people or their families. [via WSJ]