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FBI: Iris Scans to Replace Fingerprints

Jul 18, 2016 06:22 AM EDT
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The FBI has been secretly collecting iris scans of almost 460,000 people in a so-called pilot program to replace fingerprints.

Patrick Grother, a computer scientist at the National Institute of Standards and Technology in Gaithersburg, Maryland, who develops iris scanning softwares and technology, told Live Science that iris scanning could be a powerful biometric.

"It's fast to process, it has discriminative power -- my iris doesn't look like your iris, and it has reasonable permanence," Grother said.

Iris scanning technology has been around for over 25 years, but it's only recently that the technology has become faster, easier to use and relatively bug-free.

Iris scanning has replaced retinal scans, a method many people find uncomfortable. The technology is widely popular in spy-action television series and films. According to Grother, the possibility of using the kind of technology is not far away. Banks are adopting iris scanning technology, and even mobile phones like Windows Nokia Lumia and Fujitsu already feature iris scanners for security purposes, Grother said.

The FBI pilot project was launched in September 2013 in collaboration with different police departments, the Pentagon and U.S. border patrol, The Verge reported.

The program is included in the Next Generation Identification (NGI) plan of the FBI's Criminal Justice Information Services (CJIS) Division, which aims to replace mere fingerprint databases with palm prints, iris scans and facial recognition to create what they call "the world's largest and most efficient electronic repository of biometric and criminal history information."

Officials are now in the process of collecting iris scans from photographs of people's eyes.

"Iris images enrolled in the FBI Iris Pilot are primarily captured during the booking process in a controlled setting with a camera designed to capture the iris image," Stephen Fischer, FBI spokesperson, said in a statement published by Live Science.

"These cameras capture the iris image in near-infrared light. Research is currently being conducted on the extraction of iris images from high-resolution photographs."

Experts are now making improvements and developing software that will recognize iris patterns from different camera angles, making it easier to capture photographs using hand-held devices and smartphones.

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