Homeland Security to Test Iris Scanners

Daily News Article   —   Posted on September 15, 2010

(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.