At what point do law enforcement agencies cross the line from protecting citizens to infringing on civil liberties and privacy rights? This question is being addressed with increasing frequency, and is raised again with the planned implementation of BI2 Technologies’ new scanner, a hand-held facial recognition device called MORIS (Mobile Offender Recognition and Information Systems), by law enforcement officers across the country. The device allows police officers to photograph a person’s face from five feet away, or scan a person’s iris from six inches away, in order to determine if the individual has a criminal history. Devices may be incorporated into everyday items like the Apple iPhone.

While implementation of the technology would certainly be helpful in situations where an individual is not carrying any valid identification, including those involved in accidents or homeless individuals, there is a gray area as to the anticipated extent of the device’s use. Currently, there is widespread use of facial recognition technology to identify individuals, and MORIS will significantly increase the efficiency of the process. However, should law enforcement be able to use the facial recognition and iris information collected for purposes other than identification?

Privacy advocates have raised a red flag in response to the planned implementation of MORIS, stating that use of the device by law enforcement would require a warrant. Specifically, for the iris scan, a warrant may be required in order to force an individual to open his or her eyes, as the facial and iris scans may constitute an illegal search and seizure. Other commentators view use of the technology as merely taking a picture, which in most instances is legal in public places. Supporters of the device point out that individuals with nothing to hide will have no issue with the scanner’s use. However, looking past the potential legal issues involved with allowing law enforcement to use such intrusive devices, we need to determine where to draw the line.

New technology will continually be incorporated into law enforcement’s arsenal. The argument that those with nothing to hide should not be opposed to these advancements is only partially true. Many people have been to the airport enough times to know what intrusive technology feels like. While a person may have nothing to hide, they likely do not enjoy having a stranger grabbing their thighs and rifling through their luggage.

While society may not draw the line at the roll-out of the BI2 scanning device in law enforcement agencies, it is certainly an area people should be thinking about. Technological advancements made over the previous couple of decades have been significant, and undoubtedly will continue. At what point will people with nothing to hide find the use of intrusive technology unacceptable (if not illegal)?

– Thomas E. Booms

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