New York City Police Officers have begun photographing the irises of arrested defendants in an effort to prevent escapes of suspects as they move through the criminal court system.
The New York Times is reporting the program was instituted after two embarrassing episodes early this year in which prisoners arrested on serious charges tricked authorities into freeing them by posing at arraignment as suspects facing minor cases.
With the new system, officials use a hand-held scanning device that can check a prisoner’s identity in seconds when the suspect is presented in court, according to The Times.
Officials began photographing the irises of suspects on Monday at Manhattan Central Booking and expect to expand the program to all five city boroughs by early December.
The program will be expanded to Brooklyn on Friday, the Bronx on Nov. 26, Queens on Dec. 3 and Staten Island by Dec. 9, according to The Wall Street Journal.
The Times reports that the technology uses high-resolution images to identify unique patterns in the iris, the colored part of the eye. It is less intrusive than retinal scanning, which looks at patterns in the blood vessels in the back of the eye and can reveal information about a person’s health.
The military has been using similar biometric technology in Iraq and Afghanistan to develop a database of potential insurgents, The Times says.
The program will cost the city $500,000 to implement and is being paid for through a grant from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.
The iris scanner will be part of the standard booking process, which also includes fingerprints and photographs, according to The Journal. Before bringing a prisoner before a judge, police officers will use handheld devices to scan the prisoner's irises and confirm each identity against the earlier scan, The Journal explains.
The program is raising concerns among civil libertarians and privacy advocates, the media reports.
Ed Silverstein is a TMCnet contributor. To read more of his articles, please visit his columnist page.
Edited by Juliana Kenny