EXCLUSIVE: Recognizing the advantages of iris recognition

Iris biometrics

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Iris recognition is delivering a positive ID for law enforcement, writes Tim Meyerhoff, Director, North America, Iris ID.

In September of 2020, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) implemented the Next Generation Identification (NGI) Iris Service, which provides the ability to capture, catalog and rapidly compare iris images to verify identities with up to 99% accuracy.

To make this advanced form of identity management most effective on a national scale, the FBI is encouraging law enforcement agencies and corrections facilities across the country to adopt iris recognition technology into existing biometric processes for criminal bookings as well as for detainee intake and release procedures.

The rationale for the adoption of iris recognition technology for identity verification at law enforcement agencies and corrections facilities is rather simple – it’s fast, easy, touchless, highly accurate and cost efficient.

Unlike other methods of physical or biometric identification, iris recognition technology is completely non-invasive. There is no need for detained individuals or their handlers to physically come into contact with any touchscreens, paper or ink pads. This eliminates the challenges related to mutilated, damaged and worn fingertips that often hamper forensic investigations and the accidental release of criminals who are not identified correctly.

Iris recognition technology is also fast, easy and extremely accurate, increasing throughput and confidence for booking and identification processes. Enrollment and authentication of an individual takes less than two seconds. More importantly, iris recognition technology utilizes 240 recognition points on the iris to accurately identify individuals. And, with each iris being absolutely unique to each individual, the estimated chance of encountering two identical irises is one in 1078 – this includes the chance of identical twins having an iris match.

This extreme level of identification accuracy is essential in supporting higher security operations, fewer false rejects and absolutely zero opportunity for bias across a wide range of law enforcement and corrections applications.

In addition to the obvious security benefits associated with the speed, ease and accuracy of identifying and verifying individuals, iris recognition technology can also help reduce overhead costs. It potentially eliminates the need for traditional ten-fingerprint enrolments, which is a time-consuming process with expensive consumables that need to be stocked and replenished. 

The proven power of iris recognition

With the FBI clearly leading the way, many other local law enforcement agencies – including the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, New York County Sheriff’s Office and Australia – New South Wales’ Department of Corrective Service – are already utilizing iris recognition solutions to help improve operations and reduce costs.

Using iris identification data provided either in the field or during intake, these agencies can now quickly access an individual’s complete criminal history across state and federal criminal databases, and view linked records including mugshots, RAP sheets and other NCIC data (warrants, sex offender registration, immigration status, etc.).

New developments in iris technology also enable mobile capabilities ideal for enrolling and screening immigrants at the border using small, contactless cameras in the field. Iris recognition also helps mitigate processing delays for individuals with damaged, worn, or mutilated fingerprints looking to conceal their criminal history. Currently, the US Border Patrol collects up to 100,000 iris records per month to help identify those illegally crossing the border.

Additional law enforcement applications for iris recognition technology cover a wide range of applications including visitor authentication, contractor authentication, work-release authentication, time and attendance and the verification of identities for physical access control. Given its versatility and ease of integration with related systems, iris recognition technology is proving to be an enterprise level solution.

Building a case for iris recognition technology

From a technology perspective, iris recognition technology delivers several distinct advantages with numerous applications at law enforcement agencies and corrections facilities.

For starters, iris recognition technology can be used on the vast majority of the population, as most individuals have at least one eye. Blind individuals have even used iris recognition successfully, as the technology is iris pattern-dependent, not sight dependent. Additionally, an individual’s iris pattern and structure are fixed from about one year of age and remain constant over time barring any significant damage to the iris.

Once an individual is enrolled, re-enrollment requirements are infrequent if at all. With other biometric technologies, changes in voice timbre, weight, hairstyle, finger or hand size, cuts or even the effect of manual labor can trigger the need for re-enrollment.

Iris recognition technology is also ideal for handling large databases such as the FBI’s NGI Iris Service. It is also the only biometric authentication technology designed to work in the 1-n or exhaustive search mode without degradation in speed or authentication accuracy. In fact, a UK Government-commissioned study on iris recognition technology from Iris ID indicated that search times were nearly 20X faster than the next fastest technology, performing up to 10 million+ matches per second.

A highly versatile solution, iris recognition technology accommodates one, to many, one to one, Wiegand access and credentialed applications, which is ideal for use in multifactor authentication environments where PINs or tokens like proximity or smartcards are used. And, unlike conventional access or identify authentication credentials, 512-byte iris templates are encrypted and cannot be re-engineered or reconstituted to produce any sort of visual image. Iris recognition therefore affords high level defense against lost, stolen or replicated identity or access credentials.

An intuitive user experience, iris recognition technology requires relatively little cooperation from individuals. Proximity sensors activate the equipment, which incorporates mirror-assisted alignment functionality. Audio auto-positioning prompts, automated image capture and visual and audio authentication decision-cueing completes the process. The enrollment and identity verification processes are fast, easy, touchless and extremely accurate.

The FBI has documented evidence

The FBI’s NGI Iris Service has enrolled over two million sets of iris images to date, at the rate of approximately 100K new identities being added every month.

Given the success of the NGI Iris Service, the Federal Departments of Justice, Homeland Security and Department of Defense are also rapidly adding iris records to their shared national databases. This documented success of iris recognition technology is testimony to its use as a trusted, reliable means of identity verification.

As new iris recognition solutions continue to evolve, the deployment of this highly accurate and cost efficient means of identity enrollment and verification will continue to expand for myriad new applications that further reduce costs, improve operational efficiencies and enhance security and health safety for law enforcement agencies and corrections facilities.

This article was originally published in the December edition of Security Journal Americas. To read your FREE digital edition, click here.

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