Canada-DHS pilot program to use iris scanning

The Canada Border Service Agency, which is working on a Registered Traveler-style pilot program with the U.S. Homeland Security Department, is implementing iris-scanning technology at Canadian airports to verify the identity of travelers.

The program, called Nexus Air, will begin in November at Vancouver International Airport, Vancouver, British Columbia, before rollout at other Canadian airports for a yearlong trial.

In addition to being accurate, fast and secure, iris scanning became the preferred biometric technology in light of the 2003 SARS outbreak that rattled Toronto, said Diane Fraser, senior project advisor at the Canadian agency. Travelers were not comfortable with biometric identification that required touching anything, such as a fingerprint scanner, for fear of catching the disease, said Fraser, who spoke today at the 2004 Biometric Consortium Conference in Arlington, Va. Iris scanning requires that people look into a camera.

Nexus Air builds on Canada's Canpass Air program, which has 4,000 members and also uses iris scanning. As in the U.S. Transportation Security Administration's Registered Travel pilot program, frequent fliers enroll in Canpass Air -- and soon Nexus Air -- by volunteering personal information and submitting to an iris scan. In return, they can then enjoy expedited check-in and customs screening.

Iris scanning under the current Canpass Air program hasn't been perfect, Fraser conceded. About 10 percent of registered users must try more than once before the iris identification works. Canadian officials are also working with Moorestown, N.J., biometric vendor Iridian Technologies Inc. to figure out why some people can't successfully enroll their iris scans in the system.

Ultimately, however, Canadian authorities believe they made the correct biometric choice for their deployments.


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