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Iris scans are the next big thing for FBI


Iris scans will be the next big thing for the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation as it plans to test its database by 2014.  FBI will pilot test iris recognition at correction facilities, to promptly catch repeat offenders and suspects.  The iris pilot is part of the FBI’s next-generation identification (NGI) system, a $1 billion multi-year program, targeted for completion in the 2013 budget year.

Correction facilities are targeted because the capability is in place. BI2 Technologies, a private company, will manage a nationwide database.  To date, 47 states are participating in BI2’s nationwide “Inmate Identification and Recognition System” or IRIS.  To accommodate the iris images that the FBI is collecting from various law enforcement agencies, the FBI is expanding its server capacity, which also stores its old fingerprint database, including facial images and palm prints.

When an offender is booked, a high-resolution camera is used to capture the irises through a binocular type instrument.  Special software transforms the image into a digital file that is encrypted and stored.  For recognition, a camera takes a live shot of an individual’s iris and compares it from the stored images collected in a database for confirmation.

Sean G. Mullin, president and CEO of BI2 Technologies said: “BI2 Technologies provided the FBI over 12,000 iris images from current law enforcement agency clients for analysis and testing by NGI system.”

A spokesperson from the FBI’s criminal justice information services division, Stephen G. Fischer, Jr. refused to comment on the progress of NGI saying, “because we are in the early stages of development of additional biometric capabilities, including facial recognition pilot, there is no new information to report at this time.”

However, Jennifer Lynch, a staff attorney at the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), a digital rights group, is wary about a privately run, national iris network due to potential security breaches and integration with existing databases, such as those from financial institutions.

Thomas E. Bush III, former assistant director of FBI’s criminal justice information services division, who helped develop NGI’s system requirements, assured that: “The FBI’s No. 1 priority is protection of civil rights.  It would not upload a bank vault’s iris database into NGI.”  And FBI continues to guard the biometrics data in their system through an intricate system of checks and balances.

He added, “The information sharing of the future is biometrically based.  That’s when you know that you have Tom Bush.  This makes me more confident that I do have the right (bad) Tom Bush and then the good Tom Bush goes on his merry way.  It’s about getting the right bad guy…We’ve got limited resources.”

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