FBI Iris Scans Slammed as 'Runaway Surveillance'

434K scans have been collected since 2013
By Arden Dier,  Newser Staff
Posted Jul 14, 2016 10:45 AM CDT
FBI Iris Scans Slammed as 'Runaway Surveillance'
A man has his eyes scanned at the Otay Mesa Port of Entry in San Diego.   (AP Photo/Denis Poroy)

The FBI has collected 434,000 eye scans from people arrested in the US since 2013, according to a Verge investigation based on records obtained through the California Public Records Act. The scans can be used for identification much like a fingerprint, and critics are worried about abuse. The FBI says scanning began as part of a pilot project to "develop a system capable of performing iris image recognition services" as agents work to expand the FBI's identification system to include facial recognition and palm prints. The FBI collaborates with other agencies to collect the scans, along with California, Texas, and Missouri. The ACLU says the database now available—to which 189 scans were added daily by authorities in San Bernardino, Calif., alone at the start of the year—is "without any public debate or oversight" and "very troubling." ACLU's technology director calls it "runaway surveillance," per the BBC.

The FBI says the technology could be crucial in helping track down criminals. In the search for an escaped prisoner, for example, officers could use iris scanners to check people at a roadblock. But no privacy impact assessment has been submitted "as a way of anticipating and mitigating possible overreach," reports the Verge; officials say one should be complete by September, per Mashable. "It is deeply concerning" that this data is collected "without public debate, proper safeguards, or even awareness that such data has been taken and is being stored," says Privacy International. "If our biometric data is to be collected at all, such systems should not be introduced or continued before a public debate, strong legal frameworks, and strict safeguards are in place." (More FBI stories.)

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