By Olivia Scheck
MANHATTAN — The NYPD implemented a new identification procedure this week – using digital eye scans to prevent prisoners from assuming false identities during arraignment.
The new practice, which identifies prisoners by taking high-resolution pictures of their irises, the colored part of the eye, began on Monday at Manhattan Central Booking and is expected to expand to other boroughs, the NYPD confirmed Tuesday.
The eye scans are performed first during the booking process and again before the arraignment to confirm that it’s the same person, according to police.
While NYPD spokesman Paul Browne told the New York Times that the department did not know how many people had fallen through the cracks by pretending to be different people at their arraignments, there have been at least two such instances reported in the past year.
One of the escapees, Freddie Thompson, 35, was released by Staten Island prosecutors after copping to a marijuana charge in March, the Times said. Thompson, who had been brought for a string of alleged robberies, was eventually recaptured but only after spending 56 hours on the lam, according to the paper.
A second man used the same strategy – claiming to be someone else during his arraignment – to escape an assault and criminal mischief charge in the Bronx last February, the Times reported.
Marc Rotenberg of the Electronic Privacy Information Center noted that the iris recognition technology offers certain advantages over other methods, offering a more accurate form of identification without posing the privacy concerns associated with DNA profiling, according to the paper.
But others were less accepting of the new procedure, criticizing the NYPD for implementing it without legislative oversight or community discussion, the Times noted.
“It’s really distressing that the Police Department is once again undertaking a new regime of personal data collection without any public discourse,” Donna Lieberman, executive director of the New York Civil Liberties Union, told the paper.
“We don’t know the reason for it, whether this is a necessary program, whether it’s effective to address the concerns that it’s designed to address, and whether in this day and age it’s even cost-effective, not to mention whether there are any protections in place against the misuse of the data that’s collected.”
The procedure will cost $500,000, to be paid for by the Department of Homeland Security, Browne told the Times.