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5 Unexpected Places You Can Be Tracked With Facial Recognition Technology

Facial recognition technology has become more advanced, and it's increasingly popping up in two realms: law enforcement and commerce.

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But the article highlights an inherent legal problem in the MORIS device, regardless of the no doubt uniformally angelic intentions of law enforcement officials. The 4th Amendment guards against unreasonable searches, including fingerprints. Like a fingerprint, an iris scan reveals identifying information that can't be gleaned from mere observation. Parvaz' interview with a member of the Plymouth County Sheriff's office seems to show that addressing the civil liberties hazards of MORIS are not at the top of law enforcement's priorities:

John Birtwell, the director of public information and technology at the Plymouth County Sheriff's Department told Al Jazeera that the county will get "more than a handful … at least three" of the devices.

But that's just about all the certainty Birtwell had to offer on the topic, as he seemed unclear as to whether officers would inform suspects of their Fourth Amendment rights to refuse to undergo impromptu fingerprinting and iris scanning.

He also seemed unsure as to what the protocol would be in the even that a suspect declined to be processed in such a manner.

"I'm dancing on the head of a pin here because I'm not a constitutional scholar," said Birtwell.

Other law enforcement officials have more clearly articulated ambitions for the technology -- like hunting down undocumented immigrants. 

In a June " Fox and Friends"  segment on the MORIS device, Sheriff Paul Babeu of Pinal County, Arizona  explained his enthusiasm for the new technology. "In Arizona, the illegal immigration issue -- we have people from foreign countries, hundreds and hundreds of thousands of them that deliberately have very good documents that are fake, fraudulent, and we need to find out who they are, not only for the safety of my deputies but for the protection of our citizens all across America." 

("We've all heard of racial profiling. Now get ready for what some are calling 'facial profiling,'" deadpanned "Fox and Friends" host Steve Doocey at the start of the show, completely inadvertently making a very good point.)

It's important to note that the military has used similar technology in Afghanistan and Iraq for years. One of 20 people in Afghanistan is registered in biometric databases (one of six men of fighting age), according to recent reporting by the  New York Times. It's one in 14 in Iraq (and one in four men of fighting age). 

The technology is also being put to use in the aftermath of the London riots, both by law enforcement and an online group assembled to hunt down people involved in the riots by using social networking sites. (London is one of the most heavily surveilled cities in the world.)

2. The DMV

Slightly fewer than half of the DMVs in the US have the capacity to run your picture through biometric databases. Ostensibly, these searches are intended to catch people trying to collect multiple IDs from different states. Fair enough. But as EFF's Lee Tien told AlterNet, the DMV can also log into and run a person's face against any government database, including ones that hold criminal records. Last August, former New York Gov. David Paterson and DMV commissioner David Swartz held a triumphant  news conference  where they announced that more than 100 felony arrests were made through the DMV's facial recognition program. 

In the past, the FBI has applied facial recognition technology to the DMV's vast database of photo images in pursuit of suspects, according to  the AP.

When the California DMV tried to acquire facial recognition technology in 2009, privacy and consumer advocates fought the agency on the grounds that such a massive shift in private data handling required public debate (the DMV had been trying to stealthily strike a deal with the vendor). As SecurityInfoWatch reported at the time, privacy advocates argued that there was no way to ensure the technology would not also be used to track and monitor anyone: