NYPD Scanning Eyes for Foolproof Identification

The NYPD has begun a controversial method of identifying arrestees this week—by scanning the irises of the eyes. Spurred by two separate cases of pretrial detainees escaping custody by posing as others, the Department has reportedly been working on this technology for some time, though the implementation caught some off guard.

A hand held scanning machine is used to photograph the iris or colored part of the eye. This machine can identify unique patterns and differences in the colors of the eyes, making it easier to identify arrestees.

Critics are appalled that the NYPD would move forward with such a seemingly invasive procedure without statutorial support. They point to fingerprint collection, which is authorized by the statutes, and DNA collection, which is highly controversial and tied up within the courts throughout the country.

“This is an unnecessary process,” says Steven Banks, Legal Aid Society’s attorney in chief. “It’s unauthorized by the statutes and of questionable legality at best.”

The same sort of technology is being used overseas by U.S. military forces in both Iraq and Afghanistan. And while the NYPD states their use of the technology is not connected with the fight against terrorism, the $500,000 needed to get the program on its feet is from a Homeland Security grant.

This past spring, a suspect in several robberies with a violent criminal past claimed to be another man when he went before the court for arraignment in Staten Island. The man he impersonated was there on marijuana charges, leaving the robbery suspect to be released on bond.

In another similar case, a suspect facing charges for assault and criminal mischief in the Bronx is still at large after escaping in February. No doubt the department was embarrassed in their inability to keep their pretrial jail occupants identified and this new high tech scanner is the answer to their problem, despite the occurrence of such jail escapes being relatively rare.

Executive Director for the New York Civil Liberties Union states “we don’t know…whether this is a necessary program, whether it’s effective to address the concerns that it’s designed to address, and whether in this day and age it’s even cost-effective, not to mention whether there are any protections in place against the misuse of the data that’s collected.”

She brings up a good point to which the Department contends they plan on destroying the iris photos as they do mugshots—when an arrest is sealed. The NYPD’s legal department has determined these detailed iris photos to be just that, photographs. That is, why they say, there’s no need for statutorial approval or any other similar “okay” from the powers that be.

The new iris scanning technology is now being used in all five boroughs and you can expect to be subject to the new program if arrested by the NYPD. If and when that occurs, you’re likely going to want a criminal defense attorney in NY with you during your court appearances and during the fight for your freedom and good name.

Contact me today if you are facing charges for a free consultation.

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