Monday, November 5, 2007

CA - Calif. sheriff intends to scan irises of sex offenders

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ALAMEDA COUNTY - The Alameda County Sheriff's Office is preparing to become the first public agency in the Bay Area to force some convicts to submit to iris scanning, a strategy that may jump-start debate about how police should use a powerful and emerging technology.

Each human iris has a unique texture, and its contours can be mapped in a searchable database. Proponents of the technology say it won't replace fingerprinting, but that it offers a speedier and more accurate way to identify people — whether they are suspects at the scene of a crime or inmates being freed.

Authorities plan to begin scanning the irises of the county's 2,500 sex offenders within a few weeks - when they register during a move or when they check in annually as required by law. There are no plans yet to expand the scanning to others.

Sgt. J.D. Nelson, a sheriff's department spokesman, said the county is expanding its tracking of sex offenders in response to a recent federal law calling for building a national sex offender registry.

Nelson acknowledged that the program, which carries no cost because a company donated the first iris scanner, has little practical use today. No law enforcement agencies now scan irises of criminal suspects during everyday police work, which would allow for potential matches with a database. And unlike fingerprints, criminals never leave their irises at the scene of a crime.

But Nelson said his department wanted to test the technology and prepare for a future in which many police agencies scan irises and officers carry handheld scanners.

In this scenario, he said, an officer might be able to quickly identify a sex offender or parolee who gives a fake name. An officer who received a complaint about a person annoying a child, Nelson said, might scan that person's eyes. Within seconds, the officer would know if the person was a sex offender.

"We're at the infancy of this whole thing," Nelson said.

When sex offenders register, Nelson said, they will have to briefly hold their head about a foot away from the scanner, which uses a digital camera to capture an image of an iris - which is then converted into a unique code stored in a database.

Experts who have followed iris recognition technology said it has the potential to be more accurate and convenient than fingerprinting. The debate over its use, they said, will depend largely on how police decide to store, share and protect data, and whether they use iris scanning more broadly than fingerprinting, which is usually done after someone is arrested.

Another issue, they said, will be the pace of the advancement of iris-scanning technology. Experts predict that within a few years, iris-scanner companies will produce devices capable of scanning eyes from several yards away, even without a person's knowledge. If that happens, there are sure to be arguments about when and how police will be allowed to do so.

Police and biometrics experts said they didn't know of any laws that govern the use of iris scanners.

Stuart Hanlon, a San Francisco defense attorney, said he was concerned about the potential for iris scanners to intrude on people's privacy. "I don't know why police would start this without some legislation to back it up," he said.

The use of iris scanners has taken off in recent years. It is used in some jails as a way to double-check that the right inmate is being released; in a prescreening program that allows low-risk airline passengers to avoid security delays, including at San Francisco International Airport; and by the United Nations, which has used it to register people it helps during relief missions.

But most people's introduction to the technology came though "Minority Report," a film set in the year 2054. Citizens' irises are scanned constantly in daily life, allowing advertisers to tailor their pitches to them. Tom Cruise's character undergoes a gruesome eye transplant to evade discovery.

Proponents of the technology said it doesn't have to be scary and could protect the privacy of law-abiding citizens by cutting down on identity theft, allowing people to prove who they are through iris scans and requiring them to surrender less personal information to companies.

Like fingerprinting, vein recognition and facial recognition, iris scanning is a form of biometrics. One of the strengths of the iris is that it changes little over the course of a lifetime, said Professor Anil Jain, an expert in biometrics at Michigan State University.

Proponents say it never delivers a false hit if used properly. But if it is used more broadly than fingerprints, it will raise concerns about "function creep," Jain said - the idea that information about people and their habits will be improperly shared.

Alameda County's scanner, which retails for $9,995, was donated by BI{+2} Technologies of Plymouth, Mass., which gave cameras to six agencies around the country and is banking on a further expansion of the technology. The firm's scanners have also captured the eyes of children so that they can be identified if they are abducted.

Robert Melley, the company's chief operating officer, said he saw a bright future for the scanners and predicted that police would be able to use them in situations where they cannot use fingerprints.

"The way the technology is evolving, there will be a hand-held camera in six months," Melley said. In the future, he said, "an officer will be able to have a hand-held iris recognition scanner on his or her belt, and as part of a routine traffic stop could simply ask the driver and/or passengers to look into the camera."

"I'm skeptical of it," said Cristina Arguedas, a defense attorney in Berkeley. "That sounds like an absolute invasion of privacy to me, certainly to the passengers and to anyone who didn't do anything wrong."

"The way the technology is evolving, there will be a hand-held camera in six months," said Robert Melley, BI{+2} Technologies chief operating officer

Red Skelton's Pledge of Allegiance

Court considers "Lotto rapist" damages case

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LONDON - The Law Lords are due to decide next week whether an elderly victim can sue a rapist who went on to win millions of pounds on the lottery.

The woman, known as Mrs A, has taken her case to the highest court in the country after she was told that too much time had lapsed for her to bring an action.

Iorworth Hoare, dubbed the "Lotto rapist" by the press, had no money when he was jailed for life at Leeds Crown Court in 1989 for the attempted rape of Mrs A.

But in 2004 he won 7 million pounds after buying a ticket during day release from prison shortly before being freed on parole.

Mrs A, who cannot be named for legal reasons, argued that Hoare should be made to pay for his "violent and disgusting sexual assault" that had left her mentally scarred.

She was 59 when Hoare attacked her as she walked in a Leeds park in broad daylight in 1988.

She had not sued for damages at the time of Hoare's imprisonment because she had been told his lack of funds would have made it worthless.

She had been awarded 5,000 pounds from the Criminal Injuries Compensation Board.

But the High Court said in 2005 that she could not make a compensation claim because she was outside the legal six-year limit to sue for damages.

The Appeal Court said they were bound to that decision.

The Law Lords will examine whether the limit is fair. Earlier reports had originally anticipated the decision would be announced this week.

IL - Is pornography a catalyst of sexual violence? No

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In the 1980s, conservatives and feminists joined to fight a common nemesis: the spread of pornography. Unlike past campaigns to stamp out smut, this one was based not only on morality but also public safety. They argued that hard-core erotica was intolerable because it promoted sexual violence against women.

"Pornography is the theory; rape is the practice," wrote feminist author Robin Morgan. In 1986, a federal commission concurred. Some kinds of pornography, it concluded, are bound to lead to "increased sexual violence." Indianapolis passed a law allowing women to sue producers for sexual assaults caused by material depicting women in "positions of servility or submission or display."

The campaign fizzled when the courts said the ordinance was an unconstitutional form of "thought control." Though the Bush administration has put new emphasis on prosecuting obscenity, on the grounds that it fosters violence against women, pornography is more available now than ever.

That's due in substantial part to the rise of the Internet, where the United States alone has a staggering 244 million Web pages featuring erotic fare. One Nielsen survey found that one out of every four users say they visited adult sites in the last month.

So in the last two decades, we have conducted a vast experiment on the social consequences of such material. If the supporters of censorship were right, we should be seeing an unparalleled epidemic of sexual assault. But all the evidence indicates they were wrong. As raunch has waxed, rape has waned.

This is part of a broad decrease in criminal mayhem. Since 1993, violent crime in America has dropped by 58 percent. But the progress in this one realm has been especially dramatic. Rape is down 72 percent and other sexual assaults have fallen by 68 percent. Even in the last two years, when the FBI reported upticks in violent crime, the number of rapes continued to fall.

Nor can the decline be dismissed as the result of underreporting. Many sexual assaults do go unreported, but there is no reason to think there is less reporting today than in the past. In fact, given everything that has been done to educate people about the problem and to prosecute offenders, victims are probably more willing to come forward than they used to be.

No one would say the current level of violence against women is acceptable. But the enormous progress in recent years is one of the most gratifying successes imaginable.

How can it be explained? Perhaps the most surprising and controversial account comes from Clemson University economist Todd Kendall, who suggests that adult fare on the Internet may essentially inoculate against sexual assaults.

In a paper presented at Stanford Law School last year, he reported that, after adjusting for other differences, states where Internet access expanded the fastest saw rape decline the most. A 10 percent increase in Internet access, Kendall found, typically meant a 7.3 percent reduction in the number of reported rapes. For other types of crime, he found no correlation with Web use. What this research suggests is that sexual urges play a big role in the incidence of rape -- and that pornographic Web sites provide a harmless way for potential predators to satisfy those desires.

That, of course, is only a theory, and the evidence he cites is not conclusive. States that were quicker to adopt the Internet may be different in ways that also serve to prevent rape. It's not hard to think of other explanations why sexual assaults have diminished so rapidly -- such as DNA analysis, which has been an invaluable tool in catching and convicting offenders.

Changing social attitudes doubtless have also played a role. Both young men and young women are more aware today of the boundaries between consensual and coercive sex. Kim Gandy, president of the National Organization for Women, thinks the credit for progress against rape should go to federal funding under the Violence Against Women Act and to education efforts stressing that "no means no."

But if expanding the availability of hard-core fare doesn't prevent rapes, we can be confident from the experience of recent years that it certainly doesn't cause such crimes. Whether you think porn is a constitutionally protected form of expression or a vile blight that should be eradicated, this discovery should come as very good news.

MD - Pass the towels! Plans for coed locker rooms

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'I cannot put to rest concerns girls might share facilities with 'woman' who is physically male'

The governing council in Montgomery County, Md., is considering adopting an "open doors" policy to its public restrooms, locker rooms and other facilities to meet the demands of a transgender "non-discrimination" plan, which would allow men into women's lockers and vice versa, a support group reports.

A similar federal non-discrimination plan proposed by homosexual Rep. Barney Frank, D-Mass., includes a provision that would prevent "transgenders" from using opposite-sex public facilities in which being seen "fully unclothed" was unavoidable, according to Peter Sprigg, a spokesman for Parents and Friends of Ex-Gays & Gays.

But he said correspondence with the county staff shows that such a provision was considered, and deliberately rejected, in the county plan, which is scheduled for a vote Nov. 13.

"Montgomery County is unwilling to make any such exception," he told WND. "It's very extreme."

According to notes from city council meetings, Sprigg said, the only requirement will be that the person using the public facilities, including showers and locker rooms, be of the gender they present in public.

"Gender identity disorders exist in the diagnostic statistics manual," added PFOX Director Regina Griggs. "Why would we want to promote cross-dressing, changing your sex. You're not a man's brain in a woman's body and vice versa."

She noted the testimony from Dr. Renee Richards, the poster person for the transgender crowd who was a pace-setter in the man-turned-woman movement.

"I wish that there could have been an alternative way, but there wasn't back in 1975. If there was a drug that I could have taken that would have reduced the pressure, I would have been better off staying the way I was – as a totally intact person," Richards is quoted on the Reality Resources website.

"I know deep down that I'm a second-class woman. I get a lot of inquiries from would-be transsexuals, but I don't want anyone to hold me out as an example to follow. Today there are better choices, including medication, for dealing with the compulsion to cross-dress and the depression that comes from gender-confusion," Richards wrote.

The county plan, Bill 23-07, specifically would augment the state's non-discrimination plan by adding "gender identity" as a protected class.

"In addition to prohibiting discrimination in the areas of employment and housing, Bill 23-07 adds 'public accommodation' to the list, causing many to question the judgment of allowing men who merely claim they feel female to have complete access to women's restrooms, showers and locker rooms in schools, and other places of public accommodation such as health clubs, swimming pools, and store dressing rooms," PFOX said in its statement about the issue.

"The council defines 'gender identity' as 'an individual's actual or perceived gender…,' meaning biological males who see themselves as females, including cross-dressers, would obtain the right to use facilities now designated solely for women or girls," PFOX continued.

"The Montgomery County Council has voiced callousness and arrogance to the concerns of parents who object. When asked by a mother concerned about her 10-year-old daughter who swims at the Germantown Indoor Pool, where she must undress in front of women since there are no separate changing rooms, if under this law she could be changing next to a person with male genitals, Council member George Leventhal responded via email: 'I cannot absolutely put to rest your concern that girls might find themselves in a locker room or dressing room in the presence of a person who expresses or asserts herself as a woman but who still has male genitals, but based on my own sense of the prevalence of that condition in the population, I think the likelihood of that occurring is remote,'" PFOX said.

"We are endangering children," Griggs told WND. "We are trying to normalize mental illness. We're supposed to help these people."

The organization noted Leventhal's opinion is that "we should not worry if a child comes face to face with a nude male stranger (who merely has expressed he feels he is a woman) seems nothing short of condescending."

Griggs said the county response to requests by cross-dressers to use women's public facilities should be "full access to mental health services."

The bill was sponsored by Council members Duchy Trachtenberg, Valerie Ervin, and Marc Elrich with the support of Equality Maryland, an organization promoting "gay," lesbian, bisexual and transgender issues, PFOX said.

A protest has been scheduled Saturday from 10 a.m. to noon at the Germantown Indoor Swim Center, said PFOX.

Not only would the proposal govern facilities such as restrooms and locker rooms in public buildings, other public facilities such as those in McDonald's, Chucky Cheese and others would be as opened as well.

This is just the latest battle Griggs and PFOX have encountered in the region. The pro-homosexual group Truth Wins Out earlier accused her of fabricating a report that a "gay" assaulted a volunteer at a county fair booth. Police later confirmed for WND that the incident did happen as Griggs reported.

In fact, police said they located the suspect based on the victim's description and ended up escorting him off the fairgrounds.

PFOX also is engaged in a fight in Montgomery County seeking a court order to halt a public school sex curriculum because it contains "scientifically flawed and politically biased" information.

The organization joined with Citizens for a Responsible Curriculum and the Family Leader Network in filing the request for the court-ordered stay of the program targeting middle school and high school students in the district.

The organizations said the local board, headed by Nancy Navarro, adopted the curriculum that teaches anal sex as unexceptional and "intentionally excludes" warnings issued by the Centers for Disease Control and the National Institutes of Health of the high medical dangers related to those behaviors.

"The curriculum also teaches students that homosexuality is 'innate,' a controversial and unproven theory advanced by gay advocacy groups serving on the Montgomery County School Board's curriculum advisory committee," the groups' statement said.

Edward L. White III, trial counsel with the Thomas More Law Center, a prominent public interest law firm based in Ann Arbor, Mich., is assisting PFOX and the pro-family groups in their lawsuit against the school board.

The curriculum includes lessons intended for eighth-graders and adopts the language and points of emphasis employed by promoters of homosexuality. Also, 10th-graders will be taught about making announcements that they are homosexual and how to use a condom.

IA - Prosecutor: Law Meant To Protect Kids Actually Increases Risk

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Iowa's Sex Offender Residency Law In Crosshairs

COUNCIL BLUFFS -- Prosecutors said an Iowa law designed to keep sex offenders away from children may actually be putting children at risk.

It has been two years since Iowa banned offenders from living within 2,000 feet of a school or child-care center. There's new evidence the law is pushing predators underground.

The reason, according to Pottawattamie County Attorney Matt Wilber and others, is that there are few residences in many Iowa cities and towns that are not within 2,000 feet of a school or day care. The residency law has forced most sex offenders to move out of towns, or at least to pretend to move.

"That's the biggest problem," Wilber said. "They just disappear."

For instance, police would like to know where Larry Dean Conn is. They said he lived in Iowa after serving 11 years in prison for molesting his stepdaughter. He re-registered in Omaha, but when KETV NewsWatch 7 I-Team investigator Carol Kloss tried to find him at an address at 16th and Cuming streets, she discovered that he pays rent but is rarely seen there. Police said they suspect he still lives in Iowa.

"This is the molester who could be living next door, and you don't know it, because they've moved, and they haven't given law enforcement their whereabouts," Wilber said.

Wilber said that since the residency law took effect in September 2005, hundreds of Iowa sex offenders have dropped off the registry.

One sex offender, who agreed to talk to KETV only if his identity was not revealed, said he used to live in Iowa and now lives at a registered address in Nebraska. He said he is regularly checked on by law enforcement.

But, he said, he thinks the 2,000-foot rule gives Iowa families a false sense of security.

"I know a lot of sex offenders over there who have gone underground, and they have no idea where they're at, what they're doing. It make them feel safe, and they're not safe. As a matter of fact, I'd say they're worse. They're probably worse off than Nebraska," he said.

Nebraska has no similar state statute.

Douglas County Sheriff Tim Dunning said Iowa's law causes agencies in Nebraska more work as they have to monitor sex offenders moving in from Iowa. Dunning said hundreds of Iowa offenders moved to Nebraska after the law passed. That includes 26 who moved to Douglas County this year alone.

"What if all 50 states had the Iowa law? Now what? You stick them on a boat, and stick them in the ocean?" Dunning asked.

Even Iowa lawmakers are beginning to question whether all this movement is really making the state's children safer.

"I think there are legitimate concerns whether we're spending our money in the way that provides the most protection for our kids," said Iowa state Sen. Mike Gronstal.

Prosecutors and law enforcement said they would prefer to get rid of the residency restriction and create safe zones instead, where police could arrest a predator who is hanging out around a school or day care regardless of where he or she lives. Some would also like classifications such as those in Nebraska, that ranks an offender's risk to re-offending. Police and prosecutors would like to see better monitoring of serious sex offenders, with ankle bracelets or other technology.

"I think a lot of people of good faith are willing to work together and look for some solution that provides more public safety than we're currently getting with the existing law," Gronstal said.

Wilber said that for him, Iowa's sex offender residency rule may sound tough but it's just bad law.

"In my opinion, it's counterproductive. It's making children less safe," he said.

With an election year looming, lawmakers don't expect to make any changes in Iowa's law for at least a couple of years.