(by Thomas Frank, USAToday.com) WASHINGTON – The Homeland Security Department plans to test futuristic iris scan technology that stores digital images of people’s eyes in a database and is considered a quicker alternative to fingerprints.

The department will run a two-week test in October of commercially sold iris scanners at a Border Patrol station in McAllen, Texas, where they will be used on illegal immigrants, said Arun Vemury, program manager at the department’s Science and Technology branch.

“The test will help us determine how viable this is for potential (department) use in the future,” Vemury said.

Iris scanners are little used, but a new generation of cameras that capture images from 6 feet away instead of a few inches has sparked interest from government agencies and financial firms, said Patrick Grother, a National Institute of Standards and Technology computer scientist. The technology also has sparked objections from the American Civil Liberties Union.

ACLU lawyer Christopher Calabrese fears that the cameras could be used covertly. “If you can identify any individual at a distance and without their knowledge, you literally allow the physical tracking of a person anywhere there’s a camera and access to the Internet,” he said.

Iris scans can be quicker than fingerprints. “You can walk up to a wall-mounted box, look at the camera, and that’s it,” Grother said.

Homeland Security will test cameras that take photos from 3 or 4 feet away, including one that works on people as they walk by, Vemury said.

In 2007, the U.S. military began taking iris scans of thousands of Iraqis to track suspected militants. The technology was used in about 20 U.S. airports from 2005 to 2008 to identify passengers in the Registered Traveler program, who could skip to the front of security lines.

Financial companies hope the scans can stop identity fraud, said Jeff Carter of Global Rainmakers, a New York City firm developing the technology. “Iris is going to completely reshape the fraud environment,” he said.

NOTE: This article was first published at USAToday on Monday, September 13th.


Reprinted here for educational purposes only. May not be reproduced on other websites without permission from USAToday. Visit the website at usatoday.com.


1. Where/when will the U.S. Homeland Security Department test iris scan technology?

2. What is the benefit of using iris scans over fingerprints?

3. What improvement in iris scan technology has led to its possible widespread use?

4. How has the U.S. military used iris scanners recently?

5. For what reason is ACLU lawyer Chris Calabrese concerned with the use of iris scanners?

6. Read the points from the article under “Background” below.
Then read the commentary opposing the use of iris scanners at wired.com/politics/security/commentary/securitymatters/2006/05/70886 (which concludes with the statement: “The real choice is liberty versus control. Tyranny, whether it arises under threat of foreign physical attack or under constant domestic authoritative scrutiny, is still tyranny. Liberty requires security without intrusion, security plus privacy. Widespread police surveillance is the very definition of a police state. And that’s why we should champion privacy even when we have nothing to hide.”)
a) Do you agree with the commentator? Explain your answer.
b) Ask a parent the same question.



Because of its speed of comparison, iris recognition is the only biometric technology well-suited for one-to-many identification. A key advantage of iris recognition is its stability, or template longevity, as, barring trauma, a single enrollment can last a lifetime. (from wikipedia)

From an article on the use of iris scanners at fastcompany.com/1683302/iris-scanners-create-the-most-secure-city-in-the-world-welcomes-big-brother.

  • Biometrics R&D firm Global Rainmakers Inc. (GRI) announced that it is rolling out its iris scanning technology to create what it calls “the most secure city in the world.”  In a partnership with Leon, …Mexico, …(population of more than a million) — GRI will fill the city with eye-scanners.  That will help law enforcement revolutionize the way we live — not to mention marketers.
  • “In the future, whether it’s entering your home, opening your car, entering your workspace, getting a pharmacy prescription refilled, or having your medical records pulled up, everything will come off that unique key that is your iris,” says Jeff Carter, CDO of Global Rainmakers.  Before coming to GRI, Carter headed a think tank partnership between Bank of America, Harvard, and MIT. “Every person, place, and thing on this planet will be connected [to the iris system] within the next 10 years,” he says.
  • Leon [Mexico] is the first step. To implement the system, the city is creating a database of irises. Criminals will automatically be enrolled, their irises scanned once convicted. Law-abiding citizens will have the option to opt-in.
  • When these residents catch a train or bus, or take out money from an ATM, they will scan their irises, rather than swiping a metro or bank card.  Police officers will monitor these scans and track the movements of watch-listed individuals.  “Fraud, which is a $50 billion problem, will be completely eradicated,” says Carter.  Not even the “dead eyeballs” seen in Minority Report could trick the system, he says.  “If you’ve been convicted of a crime, in essence, this will act as a digital scarlet letter.  If you’re a known shoplifter, for example, you won’t be able to go into a store without being flagged.  For others, boarding a plane will be impossible.”


Read about iris scanners at eyenetwatch.com/Products/171-panasonic-bm-et300-iris-scanning-unit.aspx.

The National Institute of Standards and Technology (from wikipedia.org):

  • The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), known between 1901 and 1988 as the National Bureau of Standards (NBS), is a measurement standards laboratory which is a non-regulatory agency of the U.S. Department of Commerce.
  • The institute’s official mission is to:  promote U.S. innovation and industrial competitiveness by advancing measurement science, standards, and technology in ways that enhance economic security and improve quality of life.
  • NIST had an operating budget for fiscal year 2007 of about $843.3 million.  NIST’s 2009 budget was $992 million, but it also received $610 million as part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.
  • NIST employs about 2,900 scientists, engineers, technicians, and support and administrative personnel.
  • About 1,800 NIST associates (guest researchers and engineers from American companies and foreign nations) complement the staff.
  • In addition, NIST partners with 1,400 manufacturing specialists and staff at nearly 350 affiliated centers around the country.
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