Monday, September 27, 2010

Eye scanners get test run on border

McALLEN — Eye-reading machines — which creators see revolutionizing advertising campaigns and freeing the world from identification cards — are getting a test run here as part of the Department of Homeland Security’s arsenal against illegal border crossings.
The machines scan irises — muscles that form the colored portion of the eye with a texture scientists say can’t be altered and is unique to every person on the planet. While the U.S. Department of Defense already uses the scanners at military installations in Iraq and Afghanistan, the newer generation is able to discern identities of several people at a time and from distances of up to 30 feet. Previous models required peering into a viewfinder.

DHS spokeswoman Amy Kudwa said the two- to eight-week trial is to see what the equipment can do and if it is, as promised, superior to fingerprinting.

“This is a preliminary test of how the technology performs,” she said. “We have no specific plans for acquiring or deploying this type of technology at this point.”

A privacy impact assessment released this summer by DHS details how immigration violators will have, with their consent, their irises scanned for a pool of images that can be checked for quality by government researchers. The images will be closely guarded and destroyed following the research period, the assessment says.

Prototype cameras include floor-mounted pressure sensors, beam break sensors, and simple cameras. Agents already tasked with recording age, gender and ethnicity and taking photos and prints also will collect iris scans during the trial.

The aim is to see the scanners work in a Customs and Border Protection setting, with three different systems being tested to ensure products are interoperable. Testers want to make sure the scanners are quick, durable, easy to use and accurate, regardless of subjects’ age and ethnicity, which presented problems with earlier scanners.

U.S. prisons and jails are buying iris-scanning systems, as are corporations and U.S. and foreign governments, with India using the scanners as it collects the world’s first digital census.

Leaders of León, Mexico, have quietly rolled out the first phase of a citywide network of iris scanners they hope will make theirs the most secure city in Mexico.

Some, however, find the technology downright spooky.

"We’re very concerned about iris scanning because it can be done without your permission and at a distance,” ACLU counsel Christopher Calabrese said. “You may never know you’ve been scanned but you can be identified, and anyone with an Internet connection and a camera can essentially identify and track you.”
He questioned the precedent of scanning for illegal immigration.

“You’d have to screen everybody, which means creating a database with everybody’s iris.”

The blogosphere is peppered with commentary saying the scanners are bringing us one step closer to a “Big Brother” world where every movement is tracked and privacy is an antiquated concept.

As a representative of one of the DHS test vendors sees it, we’re in some ways already there, and for the most part voluntarily.

“These are situations where they just provide complete, ironclad security of identity to make sure that you are who you say you are and that your identity is protected as such,” said Jeff Carter, chief business development officer for Global Rainmakers Inc. “It’s no different than when you enter a country and have to produce your passport. ... If you choose not to produce your passport, then you won’t be able to access the country.”

Credit and debit card purchases track our dollars, websites our interests, social media our friends and associates.

Tech websites say iris scanners one day may track gazes at advertisements on airport walls and window displays in shopping malls, allowing marketers to learn what’s grabbing interest.

Carter, who headed think tanks at Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Bank of America, said the scanners may be the answer to financial fraud, identity theft and lost bank cards.

“If your bank offered iris access to your accounts and for payments and completely guaranteed everything, to the second, that it was only you, would you want to use that service?” he asked. “I think it’s going to be driven by consumer choice.”

No comments: