NIST launches technical review of iris scanning

Iris recognition is receiving its first major government technical review under an evaluation launched this month by the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST).

NIST's Iris Challenge Evaluation is being billed as the "first large-scale, open, independent technology evaluation for iris recognition," according to the institute's announcement. The study is intended to "promote the development and advancement of iris recognition technology and assess its state-of-the-art capability," NIST said.

Iris recognition is a biometric technology in which a person's eyes are photographed and the unique patterns of the irises are catalogued for the purposes of identity verification.

The technology is currently being deployed in several pilot projects, including screening of frequent travelers at several U.S. airports, sponsored by the Homeland Security Department and, separately, in testing by British immigration authorities at Heathrow Airport in London.

The first phase of the evaluation, running from August 2005 through January 2006, will review specific queries related to iris recognition technology capabilities, including establishing a performance baseline to measure future progress.

In a planned second phase, which is being considered for the first quarter of 2006, NIST researchers will measure performance with sequestered?or not previously viewed?data, using standard testing methodology, NIST said.

The test is jointly sponsored by federal agencies, including the FBI, the National Institute of Justice and the Homeland Security Department, among others.

The testing is occurring as iris recognition is being utilized in several biometric pilot projects worldwide.

Iridian Technologies Inc. of Moorestown, N.J., announced this month that its iris recognition technology has been selected for the Registered Traveler program at Orlando International Airport. It is the nation's first privately-sponsored program to register frequent travelers for speedier airport passage, and is sanctioned by the Homeland Security Department. Travelers submit fingerprint and iris biometric information and pay a fee to participate in the program.

Lockheed Martin Corp. of Bethesda, Md., and New York-based Verified Identity Pass Inc. are operating the program in partnership with DHS and the Greater Orlando Aviation Authority.

In addition, Iridian said its iris recognition technology has also been deployed at the department's five other Registered Traveler pilot program airports: Minneapolis-St.Paul, Los Angeles, Houston, Boston and Washington's Reagan National.

"Traditionally, iris recognition has been known as the most accurate non-invasive biometric [technology], and is now becoming recognized as the most convenient," Jerry Ruddle, vice president of global sales and marketing at Iridian, said in a news release. "Users appreciate the speed and the fact that you don't have to touch anything."

Separately, British immigration officials initiated the Iris Recognition Immigration System at two terminals at Heathrow in March. The system allows eligible passengers, including citizens and permanent residents, to enroll their iris patterns. Once enrolled, they are allowed to pass through immigration controls through a separate portal, where their identities are verified by iris scan.

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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