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Police and Mobile Facial Recognition

Making big news this week is the deployment of mobile facial recognition tool for law enforcement. Developed by BI2 Technologies of  Plymouth, Massachusetts, the Mobile Offender Recognition and Identification System (MORIS) device attaches to an Apple iPhone.

Added to the phone, the device is roughly 1.75” thick and weighs 12.5 ounces. Once MORIS goes on sale in September, it is reported to cost $3,000, including the phone. Currently, BI2 is taking preorders and is expecting to ship 1000 units to 40 departments (( Via PCMag. )) . While the current version is iPhone based, BI2 plans on an Android version as well. MORIS allows facial photos of suspects to be taken from about 5 feet away. In addition to facial recognition, IRIS and fingerprint scans can also be taken. Once scanned, the information is sent to law enforcement databases for comparison. According to Bernard Melekian, the director of the U.S. Department of Justice’s COPS program:

“If the purpose is to determine instantly an individual’s identity and determine whether they are wanted or have serious criminal history, that is not only a desirable use, it is an important use. To simply collect information on individuals to add to the database would not in my opinion be a desirable use of the technology.”

While the device is still in development, it is also being tested by several agencies. Among them are Brockton, MA police. Brockton police chief William Conlon said that MORIS system will only be used when the police are actively searching for a suspect or when someone has committed an offense, not as a routine tool to ID citizens on the street. In an interview with BI2’s chief executive Sean Mullin last year, he told PopSci that the responses of privacy groups and civil liberties advocates are entirely appropriate, but that he thinks the technology passes legal muster. The facial recognition technology requires a frontal facial image taken from close proximity, he says—in other words, it requires consent. Iris scans are practically impossible without the subject’s cooperation, as are fingerprint scans. Besides, the alternative when a police officer can’t confirm a suspect’s identity is generally a trip downtown to sort it out. MORIS simplifies that process (( Via PopSci. )) . In a demo video (video), Brockton officers were shown bringing up the iPhone’s camera and snapping a photo before running it through the iris-scan app. It goes through available data and brings up information if there’s a match. Similarly, for facial recognition, snap a photo, center the app’s tool, and run it through the data. If a suspect is not in the system, the app allows officers to enroll them by taking a few photos (( Via PCMag. )) .