Technology Spotlight: The State of Iris Recognition

Will technological advances and successful deployments make it the preferred biometric?

In addition to progress in algorithm accuracy and speed, there has been equally impressive progress in biometric platform architecture. Today, the best search engines perform multi-modal biometric (face, fingerprint and iris) searches in the same software application, thus reducing system complexity as well as scale with fusion and pipelining techniques. They run on commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) servers and use a mixture of commercial and free and open source (FOSS) noSQL databases for data storage. Scalability has been proven even in identification programs that include hundreds of millions of records. Finally, interfacing with mature COTS search engines is relatively simple due to the open-standards based, service-oriented architectures.


Rapid Identification for Law Enforcement

For law enforcement and the military, it is often critically important to identify an individual as quickly as possible. Significant time and effort is wasted when officers fill out forms for arrests of repeat criminals. Additionally, criminals often provide aliases that waste time in the booking process. Another problem is the movement of criminals from one physical location to another (e.g. local precinct, courthouse, prison). Ensuring that only inmates qualified for the work release program exit the facility and get on the bus, for example, is not a trivial problem. Dispensing medications to appropriate individuals is another challenge in a correctional facility.

All of these problems can be addressed by using the iris to rapidly identify a person already in the database, such as through a prior arrest and/or conviction. Basically, an iris is quickly captured and searched against a database, with the result is returned within seconds. Fingerprints, the most commonly used ID method, can take several minutes, even as many as 30, to acquire and even longer to return results, depending on the size and location of the identification system. Rapid iris-based identification can be performed at multiple points in the process of moving a person from location to location, as required.

Several law enforcement agencies have successfully used iris matching technology to rapidly and accurately identify criminals in this way. One state deployed 64 multi-biometric booking workstations at major arrest and arraignment locations to begin building an iris identification database that will allow for rapid identification in the criminal arrest, arraignment and incarceration process.

Importantly, this solution provides high-level administrators with a means of ascertaining the total number of criminals in a facility or in the state, during a given time period, which can be a valuable feature in the event of an emergency and numerous other scenarios.


R&D Continues

Iris images acquired in challenging environments, or from uncooperative subjects, may impact performance and not provide good match results. In this case, various techniques can be used to enhance the image to make it usable for automated matching.

A number of image enhancement tools for improving iris recognition performance are under development, with the goal of image enhancement, correction and results interpretation that will improve the operational quality of challenging data, similar to those in latent finger examination practice today.


Marketing Iris Recognition

Big consumer technology companies like Apple and Sony, as well as other Industries are looking to biometric technologies to increase security, opening the market for additional applications for iris and other biometric recognition technologies. Organizations looking to add biometrics to their security portfolio should not only understand the benefits and tradeoffs between different types of biometrics, particularly iris, but also take lessons from what governments have done with biometrics to make large programs successful.

Government agencies require security clearances to access the biometric data they have captured, and that access leaves electronic footprints to deter snooping or theft. It is not foolproof, but they have invested billions over the years into securing the information gathered through biometric capture.

People willingly stand for a government photo or fingerprint because they know it will increase their security and convenience — such as protecting them against identity theft, speeding through a security line, or quickly applying for a background check. Private businesses must also show a strong value proposition to consumers/employees in the collection and use of biometrics. Businesses should give individuals choices and allow them to opt-in, providing full transparency into what is being collected, why and what will br received in return.