U.K. tests iris scans at Heathrow

British immigration officials are launching the Iris Recognition Immigration System (IRIS), a biometric identification pilot project, at two terminals at Heathrow Airport in London this month.

The system is "a much more efficient and convenient way to clear immigration," according to the British Home Office. Eligible passengers for the free iris scanning and enrollment system include British citizens, permanent U.K. residents and some visitors.

Eligible passengers may apply voluntarily to have their eyes photographed and their iris patterns enrolled in the system. Enrolled passengers will be able to pass through immigration controls through a separate portal, where their identities will be verified by iris scan.

"This data will be stored securely alongside their personal details, and the enrolment process will take approximately five to 10 minutes," the Home Office said.
The trial comes as Congress begins to consider a European Commission request to extend by a year the U.S. deadline to require European visa-waiver countries to begin issuing passports with digitized fingerprint biometric information. Those biometric passports are to be in place by Oct. 26, but only six European countries will be ready by that date. Great Britain has said it will initiate the biometric passport program in 2006.
The House Judiciary's Subcommittee on Immigration, Border Security and Claims is holding a hearing on the extension request at 1 p.m. Thursday.

About the Author

Alice Lipowicz is a staff writer covering government 2.0, homeland security and other IT policies for Federal Computer Week.

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