Just Chill Out and Let the NYPD Photograph Your Eyes

Barbara Amburgey uses the Iris Acces system to enter New Egypt Elementary School May 1, 2003 in New Egypt, New Jersey.  The iris-scanning technology is used to identify employees of the Plumsted District schools and persons authorized to pick up children, but not students. The systems use a video camera to record the colored ring around the eye's pupil. It is considered a nearly foolproof way of identifying people because markings in the iris are unique to each person and do not change with aging.
Photo: William Thomas Cain/Getty Images

NYPD spying is not quite as dystopian- and science fiction-seeming as a database of citizens' eye pictures. A handful of people arrested recently in New York City, including a few Occupy Wall Street protesters, are complaining that cops are insisting that the accused allow the department to photograph their irises, despite the fact that the security measure is supposed to be voluntary. "[An officer] said: 'It's not really optional. It'll take you longer to get out of here if you don't do it,'" one protesters claims. The department's spokesperson, Paul Browne, says unsurprisingly that he's never heard of such a thing.

The iris pictures were enacted in 2010 in an effort to stop prisoners from escaping their arraignments, but some lawyers complain that the program was never officially announced or commented on, and that "eye data could place the innocent under a lasting cloud of suspicion." Just recently, according to attorney-in-chief Steven Banks of the Legal Aid Society, officers have slowed the arrest process for those not consenting to the iris portraits. A legal fight is likely brewing, but we also smell a downtown art project about civil liberties and state security.