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Police get controversial iPhone-based face recognition tech

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]

by MacNN Staff



    Comment buried. Show
  1. ElectroTech

    Joined: Dec 1969


    Constitutional rights

    Every time someone finds a better way to clearly identify and catch the law breakers, some idiots scream about constitutional rights. Why do the criminals have so many rights and the law abiding public must be left at risk of harm from these same precious criminals?

  1. chas_m




    Because it is better to have a few criminals getting away with stuff than to surrender our freedom to a police state where everyone who doesn't look the way the police officer wants them to look is suddenly a suspicious criminal. Because the PRICE WE WILLINGLY PAY in a free society is to presume innocence until PROVEN guilty, not just ASSUMED guilty.

    So long, free society. It was nice while it lasted.

  1. climacs

    Joined: Dec 1969


    Those pesky Constitutional rights

    Are the only thing that stand between you and the police busting down your door anytime they feel like it, you un-American tvvat.

  1. facebook_Hero

    Via Facebook

    Joined: Jul 2011


    Not good!

    This can only end badly.

  1. SierraDragon

    Joined: Dec 1969


    _Very_ not good.


  1. SierraDragon

    Joined: Dec 1969



    @ "If you are not a criminal, then you have nothing to worry about."

    n*** Germans no doubt said the same thing. USA had Watergate, Iran-Contra, etc. Criminals in one presidency (Reagan) get pardoned by another (GHWBush) and re-employed by a third (GWBush).

    Anyone who trusts the folks in political power to do the right thing is worse than naive. The only way to keep a society free is with... FREEDOM. And that means personal freedom, including freedom from having a police state computer-monitoring individuals' location and activities without fully justified PROBABLE CAUSE in each very specific instance.

    We all need to re-read Orwell's "Nineteen Eighty-Four."

  1. testudo

    Joined: Dec 1969


    Re: 1984

    @ "If you are not a criminal, then you have nothing to worry about."

    Um, unless you are mistakenly thought to be a criminal by a buggy piece of software, or a misidentification. Then you're stuck in jail for who-knows-how-long until you get them to understand you aren't who they think you are. Assuming you can convince them of that before trial.

    And you say you have nothing to worry about.

  1. testudo

    Joined: Dec 1969



    There is nothing new here. This is just bringing existing tech (facial recognition) to yet another device. One should be concerned over such tools not because it's an iPhone app, but just because you have to wonder how many times you are being caught on camera and being checked against?

    BTW, next time you get your driver's license, put on a big smile! You'll probably be told to lose it before they'll issue the license. They're now using those photos in these types of database searches (or plan on it), and smiling screws up the software. I'd suggest men grow out their beards for weeks/months before getting their picture taken, just to help somewhat.

  1. russellb

    Joined: Dec 1969


    Whats the problem

    I just dont get it .. whats the problem. If it aids police in doing their job and all they are doing is being able to lookup an existing criminal database on the street good on them. would you rather that person not be identified by police and go mug someone, kill someone, steal something from your house ? If the system was used to create on the spot database etc then I might have an issue .. but if it is only from a known good database go for it

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