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Iris Photographs by Police, Not So Optional, Occupiers Among Others Subjected

Program extended despite objections

- Common Dreams staff

In 2010 the NYPD began a new iris-photographing program. Officials began photographing the irises of suspects arrested for any reason as a routine procedure. Once an individual's iris is in the database, a hand-held scanning device can identify a 'suspect' in seconds.

The program has now been expanded across all five boroughs of New York, and many are now coming forward to protest the procedure; the NYPD has allegedly coerced some into this 'optional' scanning.

New York Times reports:

After her arrest at an Occupy Wall Street protest in December, Samantha Wilson expected to be booked, fingerprinted and subjected to a mug shot. But when a police officer raised a small device to her face and began photographing her eyes, she declined

Ms. Wilson, 32, said her refusal resulted in a threat from the officer.

“He said: ‘It’s not really optional. It’ll take you longer to get out of here if you don’t do it,’ ” she recalled.

The New York Police Department began photographing the irises of people arrested in Manhattan in 2010; officials said then that the images would help prevent suspects from escaping. But the program drew criticism from criminal defense lawyers and civil liberties experts who expressed concern that it could infringe on individuals’ privacy, especially in cases in which the charges were eventually dropped

More than a year later, as the program has been extended across the city, opponents have renewed their objections and accused officers of sometimes pressuring people to submit to the photographs — which are supposed to be optional — by keeping those who do not comply in custody longer. [...]

Concern over the program has taken several forms. Some opponents object to the fact that it was instituted without public announcement or comment. Others fear that cataloging eye data could place the innocent under a lasting cloud of suspicion.[...]

[Steven Banks, the attorney in chief for the Legal Aid Society] said it was problematic that the police were applying the program “without any legislative authorization to New Yorkers who may well be wrongfully accused of misconduct.” [...]

Megan Morris, a lawyer who has been helping coordinate the defense of people arrested in connection with Occupy Wall Street demonstrations for the National Lawyers Guild, said that dozens of the group’s clients had been held longer than usual after refusing iris photographs. [...]

 

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