Integrity Legal

18th August 2010

The United States Customs and Border Protection Service (USCBP) is tasked with implementing security policy along the US borders. This organization is also responsible for screening immigrants and entrants on their way in to the United States of America (as defined by the United States Immigration and Nationality Act). Recently, an announcement was released which noted that USCBP is testing new technologies in an effort to provide further security along the border and at Ports of Entry to the United States. To quote the aforementioned publication directly:

As part of its Multi-Modal Biometrics Projects, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Science & Technology (S&T) Directorate and the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) are investigating iris recognition as a promising biometric modality that may become suitable to support DHS operations in the near future…

Iris scanning has been discussed in the past in connection with identity verification technology. It would seem that until recently this technology was not available for widespread use due to testing and cost considerations. Also, the technology is relatively young and, as a result, there has been little time to examine all of the ramifications of this technology:

This project is managed by the DHS Science and Technology (S&T) Directorate, co-sponsored by the National Programs and Protection Directorate, US-VISIT Program and leverages the joint expertise of DHS, National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), Department of Defense (DoD) and the U.S. Naval Academy. Iris recognition is a promising biometric modality that may become suitable to support DHS operations in the future. However, iris recognition has not been systematically and extensively evaluated outside of carefully controlled environments (i.e., in laboratories). The purpose of this evaluation of iris recognition technologies is to conduct field trials/studies of iris camera prototypes under conditions and environments of relevance (e.g., humidity levels, amount of sunlight, etc) to DHS operational users to assess the viability of the technology and its potential operational effectiveness in support of DHS operations.

In a way, this Iris technology has a great deal in common with identity identification through fingerprinting. In the future, some believe that eye scanning technology will be widely used in order to increase security at certain facilities. Furthermore, there are some who believe that Iris scanning, or technology similar thereto, will be used as a means of identification for quick cross referencing in various government databases. The aforementioned report went on to further note:

The iris is a muscle that forms the colored portion of the eye. It regulates the size of the pupil, controlling the amount of light that enters the eye. Although the coloration and structure of the iris is genetically linked, the details of the iris structure are not. Iris imaging requires use of a high quality digital camera that illuminates the iris using near-infrared light and takes a photograph without causing harm or discomfort to the individual. The prototype cameras in this evaluation are designed to capture iris images for different operational scenarios (e.g., standing in front of a mounted or handheld camera or walking near a camera while walking through a portal).
S&T and US-VISIT are working with the DHS Customs and Border Protection (CBP)/ Office of Border Patrol to develop a concept of operations (ConOps) to describe how the technology may be tested to support its existing operational missions.

It will likely take a relatively substantial period of time before this technology is used widely. That said, the implications of such technology could be very significant from both a privacy standpoint as well as a practical standpoint. In a final excerpt from the above cited publication:

Once identified by the DHS team, the iris camera prototypes will be provided to the U.S. Border Patrol agents. The iris camera prototype includes sensors such as floor-mounted pressure sensors, beam break sensors, motion sensors, and simple cameras. This system works by electronically capturing the iris images of individuals that are placed in front of the camera…

Although consumer use of iris scanning technology may not be the norm in the near term, there are those who believe that USCBP will have this technology at their disposal soon. Hopefully this new technology will provide increased security in a legal and non-obtrusive manner.

For related information please see: expedited removal

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