Device Raises Fear of Facial Profiling

Dozens of law-enforcement agencies from Massachusetts to Arizona are preparing to outfit their forces with controversial hand-held facial-recognition devices as soon as September, raising significant questions about privacy and civil liberties.

With the device, which attaches to an iPhone, an officer can snap a picture of a face from up to five feet away, or scan a person’s irises from up to six inches away, and do an immediate search to see if there is a match with a database of people with criminal records. The gadget also collects fingerprints.

Until recently, this type of portable technology has mostly been limited to military uses, for instance to identify possible insurgents in Iraq or Afghanistan.

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