The New York Police Department is photographing the irises of arrestees in an effort to prevent escapes as suspects move through the court system, the New York Times reports. The program started after two embarrassing episodes this year in which prisoners arrested on serious charges tricked the authorities into freeing them by posing at arraignment as suspects facing minor cases. That exposed weaknesses in the city's handling of suspects as they move from police custody into the maze of court systems in the five boroughs.
With the new system, the authorities are using a hand-held scanning device that can check a prisoner's identity in seconds when the suspect is presented in court, said police spokesman Paul Browne. Officials began photographing the irises of suspects arrested for any reason yesterday in Manhattan and expect to expand to all five boroughs by early December. The effort is raising concerns among civil libertarians and privacy advocates, who say official cataloging of the new data could put innocent people under permanent suspicion. “It's really distressing that the Police Department is once again undertaking a new regime of personal data collection without any public discourse,” said Donna Lieberman of the New York Civil Liberties Union, “and we don't know the reason for it, whether this is a necessary program, whether it's effective to address the concerns that it's designed to address, and whether in this day and age it's even cost-effective, not to mention whether there are any protections in place against the misuse of the data that's collected.”