Forget fingerprints: Your iris is your new identity

Iris recognition finally seems ready to break into the mainstream.

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Iris-centric law enforcement in Missouri

While most organizations use iris recognition as an additional authentication resource, law enforcement agencies in Missouri have made the technology central to everything they do. Missouri was the first state to use iris recognition as the core platform on which to build a statewide law enforcement records management and jail records management system for tracking people as they pass through the criminal justice system, says Mick Covington, director of the Missouri Sherriffs' Association.

Cole County
The state of Missouri is using iris recognition as the core platform for tracking people as they pass through the criminal justice system.

The new system, purchased from MorphoTrust and used by sheriff's offices and the Missouri Department of Corrections, starts tracking people the moment they're arrested and booked.

"When someone comes into one of our jails, you get a read back in three seconds that tells you who they are and where they were last," Covington says. Deployed in 55 of the state's 115 counties to date, the system is used by county jails to, for example, identify people, check them in and out for court dates, and make sure medication is delivered to the right person at the right time.

The system will eventually upload iris data to a state repository that will in turn upload the data to the FBI's NGI database. The fact that the system doesn't require touching the individual is an advantage in a prison setting, Covington says, and the technology requires minimal staff training. "The quality of the images is much better now," he says. "And the machines are more user-friendly and more durable. They're cop-proof."

Iris recognition technology is continuing to evolve and outgrow its spy novel image, as is the manner in which users interact -- or don't interact -- with the systems. The technology is moving beyond what HRS's Norman calls a "coerced method of acquisition" -- exemplified by the types of systems historically used at border crossings and in prisons -- to a more social technology. "Social is if I go to a store and take a soda from a machine using a biometric," he says. "We're on the edge of moving into a personalization stage and away from this security/paranoia type of application. That's the next phase."

This article, "Forget Fingerprints: Your Iris Is Your New Identity," was originally published on

Robert L. Mitchell is a national correspondent for Computerworld. Follow him on Twitter at, or email him at

Copyright © 2013 IDG Communications, Inc.

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