Eyeball-scanning iPhone used by cops to ID suspects

An iPhone-based device will soon let police forces identify within seconds a suspect based on facial features, fingerprints, or now the unique features of the human eye.

The blocky device, dubbed MORIS, attaches to the back of an Apple iPhone. To use the iris scan, a police officer holds the phone's camera about 6 inches from the suspect's face and snaps a close-up of the eye. The software analyzes over 200 unique features and, if the suspect's scan is already in a database, an algorithm matches them, and identifies the suspect.

The database is maintained by the vendor, B12 Technologies, Plymouth, Mass. [The Wall Street Journal's Emily Steel has details on MORIS and B12 in a recent entry in her Digits blog.]

To use facial recognition, the officer snaps a photo from 2 to 5 feet away. Using software from Animetrics, MORIS analyzes over 100 unique features, and compares them to similar scans in the database. There's also an integrated fingerprint scanner.

MORIS, or Mobile Offender Recognition, is a mobile version of B12's original and still existing product, IRIS, which was designed to run an iris scan on prisoners being discharged from jails to confirm the right person was being released. B12 was founded in 2006 by Sean Mullin and Peter Flynn, customers soon began pressing for a mobile version that could be used by officers on the street, according to Steel's Wall Street Journal story.

The central database is a key part of all the product offerings. In videos and other news reports, law enforcement officials praise the speed of identifying a suspect. Police officers at a traffic stop or on the street can almost instantly confirm a person's identity and discover if they have a serious criminal history.

B12 began testing prototypes about a year ago, with the Brockton, Mass., police department, having tapped Animetrics for the facial recognition capability. The company spent the past year making changes based on police feedback, especially improving the fingerprint-recognition feature, and switching the camera orientation from horizontal to vertical. MORIS costs $3,000, and includes the cost of the smartphone. Together, the two devices weigh 12.5 ounces.

Almost needless to say, the technology causes some to worry that it can be used for general surveillance of individuals instead of suspect identification, based on probable cause such as a traffic stop or other incident.

B12 CEO Mullin, in a recent Reuters article, said that covert photographs rarely yield the clear image needed for the ID scans.

"It requires a level of cooperation that makes it very overt -- a person knows that you're taking a picture for this purpose," Mullin was quoted in the news story.

John Cox covers wireless networking and mobile computing for Network World.

Twitter: http://twitter.com/johnwcoxnww

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