The hand-held facial-recognition device can snap a picture of a face from up to five feet away, or scan a person's irises from up to six inches away, and immediately search for a match in a database of people with criminal records. No, it’s not a scene from the movie “Minority Report” or Facebook’s latest tagging technology, but the product description of a Mobile Offender Recognition and Information System, or MORIS, which can attach to the back of an iPhone. Until recently, such a device was only found in military operations, but it could soon be coming to a sheriff’s department near you. Law enforcement groups are split on the matter; police in Arizona are eager to use the gadget to identify people who aren't carrying their ID when stopped, while the National Association of Police Organizations is concerned that, because of its close range, iris scanning could be considered a "search." A search requires a warrant, so without one, facial scanning faces a host of civil liberties challenges, not to mention a bunch of significant questions about privacy in public places. It’s generally legal for anyone with a camera to take pictures of people in public space but once a law-enforcement officer stops someone, a different standard applies. Would you submit to facial scanning? And is the technology up to par after years of jumpstarts, like the attempt at Logan airport, where the system couldn’t even detect the images of employees whose photos were in the database?
Jennifer Lynch, staff attorney at the Electronic Frontier Foundation
Lee Baca, Los Angeles County Sheriff