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5 Creepy New Ways for Police to Intrude on Your Rights

Handcuffs that give shocks? Mobile iris scan readers? Thanks to Homeland Security cash, police departments are stocking up on all kinds of creepy new technologies.

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The scan isn't mandatory, but as I wrote about my own experience, “if you don’t submit to it, you will be punished.” In my case, I refused the scan on intake, but was told I would be held in jail for an extra night if I didn't allow my eyes to be scanned before I saw the arraignment judge, despite the fact that there was no initial scan to compare it with.

This technology, like DNA analysis and fingerprinting, can now be used in the field. BI2 Technologies has developed a device that slides over an iPhone and allows officers to scan a suspect's face and eyes, and then check that scan against a criminal database. Critics say the tool is problematic because it can scan a person's face from up to four feet away, possibly without their awareness. Beyond that, there is a disturbing partnership emerging between BI2 Technologies, the FBI and local police forces, with reports that the FBI plans to launch an iris national database in 2014.

5. License plate recognition. It's not just your eyeballs and fingertips that law enforcement wants to scan. Relatively new technology called license plate recognition allows police to run thousands of tags a day, all while just driving around. Cameras mounted on cop cars constantly scan the area and check plates against databases, and alert the officer if there's a match.

A Long Beach police officer describes the scope of LPR this way:

In our case we are running multiple databases -- we have "wanted felony vehicles," "be on the lookout," "24 hour hotsheet," "wanted by detectives," "LA County warrants," and our gang unit. In addition to this we have "stolen vehicles," which are available to everybody in the state. Currently in our database we have 24,000,000 plus reads.

Just like the other surveillance tools, police departments expect use of LPR to increase in the coming years. According to a Police Executive Research Forum (PERF) survey, “71 percent of responding agencies already have LPRs,” though often just on a handful of cruisers. Tellingly, “almost every police agency expects to acquire or increase their use of LPRs in coming years, and that five years from now, on average they expect to have 25 percent of their cars equipped with LPRs.”

As Kevin Goztola notes, this kind of technology isn't inherently inappropriate, but without strict regulation many innocent people could be surveilled unconstitutionally. The Wall Street Journal recently reported on a US person who discovered through requests for public records that his daily routine had been monitored automatically. The WSJ concludes, “The rise of license-plate tracking is a case study in how storing and studying people's everyday activities, even the seemingly mundane, has become the default rather than the exception.”

When it comes to drones, the future is wide open. From proposed surveillance in Seattle to assisting arrests in North Dakota, police drones are here and they aren't going anywhere. NYPD commissioner Ray Kelly recently told a crowd that his department was “looking into” using drones to surveil political protests, though “a drones program is not being actively pursued at this time.” Recently obtained FOIA documents, however, show that the NYPD counter-terrorism unit may be in the early stages of developing the use of drones.

As drones get smaller, more versatile and increasingly capable of behaving " autonomously," it's not difficult to imagine a time in the future when drone surveillance is integrated with LPR technology, all in the name of increased security. 

John Knefel is the co-host of Radio Dispatch and a freelance writer based in Brooklyn. Follow him on Twitter at @johnknefel.
 
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