Iris scanners, widely used by the US military, could arrive at a police department near you



Iris scans could be part of a routine traffic check, thanks to technology developed by researchers at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh that can capture an image from a distance of 40 feet. The technology would allow police to take an image the second a driver peeks in the rearview mirror.

“It’s no different from a camera taking a picture of you,” said Marios Savvides, research professor in CMU’s computer engineering department and director of the CyLab Biometrics Center. “You could be anywhere within a 6 to 12 meter radius and it will find you, zoom in and capture your iris.”

The technology would be a major development for biometric iris scanners, which have been hampered for years by long-range accuracy. But the adoption would also create legal questions by relying on technology similar to the databases of local license plates used in Virginia, California and other municipalities.

“It could be used surreptitiously,” said Jennifer Lynch, an attorney with the Electronic Frontier Foundation, which oversees the development of the technology. “This could allow law enforcement officers to collect a person’s biometric information without their knowledge.”

The US military has used iris scanning technology for more than a decade in the Middle East, in part to help determine who is allowed to enter military installations in Iraq and Afghanistan. U.S. soldiers in combat zones often take a snapshot of an individual 6 inches from their face, at which time the data is uploaded into a large database that includes everything from scar information to identity images. the height and eye color data.

The Department of Homeland Security has a similar database of foreign nationals and Americans working overseas, although the existence of a national database has not been reported outside of the system. next-generation FBI identification. The government has donated millions to CMU for its iris scanner research, and Savvides is in talks with Seraphim Global, a Virginia-based nonprofit dedicated to combating human trafficking, to to remotely identify children presumed missing and exploited.

But to effectively identify someone, the scanner would have to compare their just captured iris to a database of stored information. This is where privacy concerns come in.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation has filed several lawsuits against US law enforcement seeking to uncover existing facial scanning technology. The problem, according to Lynch, is that unlike fingerprints, the police could collect information about someone’s physical body without legal authorization. If this type of technology were deployed in an area like Manhattan, where tens of thousands of surveillance cameras are filming, it could allow real-time spying on people not suspected of wrongdoing. “As a democratic society, I think we should all be concerned about this,” she said.

And it’s not clear whether law enforcement wants or needs the technology. Thanks to a license plate scanner, police officers already know who is in the car before they approach, said Rich Roberts, spokesperson for the International Union of Police Associations. If that doesn’t work, the policeman can call the license plate number to send.

“There is a lot of high-tech stuff available to law enforcement. However, much of it is not well proven and there are a lot of political issues here, ”said Roberts. “Another big issue is cost: too many police departments are already understaffed due to budget issues, resulting in slow response times and a host of other issues. ”



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