Iris ID systems go mainstream

Iris recognition finally seems ready to break into the mainstream, particularly in banking and law enforcement, as prices drop and systems get easier to use.

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The cost of cameras for an application like the one at Gatwick can range from $10,000 to $65,000. Gatwick's system uses AOptix InSight models, and the airport has 34 of them, says HRS's Norman.

The system works by automatically locating a passenger's face and capturing the iris pattern while the video offers simple instructions, such as "Please look up" and "Please stand still" and "Please proceed," according to Rees.

At Symantec, Meijer says the closer-range binocular-style cameras used in the latest version of its iris recognition system have also improved considerably. "Before, you had to manually adjust the mirrors to line up with your eye," he explains. "Now it remembers you when you scan your badge. It's more user-friendly."

Iris-centric Law Enforcement

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 Sheriffs' Association.

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 Next Generation Identification (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 version of this story was originally published in Computerworld's print edition. It was adapted from an article that appeared earlier on Computerworld.com.

Copyright © 2013 IDG Communications, Inc.

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