The Department of Homeland Security’s Privacy Office has released a new privacy impact assessment (PIA) concerning the agency’s study of a type of biometric identification — iris recognition. From the privacy impact assessment (pdf) on “Iris and Face Technology Demonstration and Evaluation.”
As part of its Multi-Modal Biometrics Projects, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Science & Technology (S&T) Directorate and the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) are investigating iris recognition as a promising biometric modality that may become suitable to support DHS operations in the near future. […]
The purpose of this evaluation of iris recognition technologies is to conduct field trials/studies of iris camera prototypes under conditions and environments of relevance (e.g., humidity levels, amount of sunlight, etc) to DHS operational users to assess the viability of the technology and its potential operational effectiveness in support of DHS operations. S&T is conducting a PIA because biometric information is being collected from individuals detained in an operational setting. […]
The iris is a muscle that forms the colored portion of the eye. It regulates the size of the pupil, controlling the amount of light that enters the eye. Although the coloration and structure of the iris is genetically linked, the details of the iris structure are not. Iris imaging requires use of a high quality digital camera that illuminates the iris using near-infrared light and takes a photograph without causing harm or discomfort to the individual. The prototype cameras in this evaluation are designed to capture iris images for different operational scenarios (e.g., standing in front of a mounted or handheld camera or walking near a camera while walking through a portal). […]
Once identified by the DHS team, the iris camera prototypes will be provided to the U.S. Border Patrol agents. The iris camera prototype includes sensors such as floor-mounted pressure sensors, beam break sensors, motion sensors, and simple cameras. This system works by electronically capturing the iris images of individuals that are placed in front of the camera. […]
To accomplish a thorough and complete analysis and evaluation of the iris camera prototypes, for this research/test researchers require supporting information in addition to the iris images. Supporting information includes limited biographic information (i.e., age, gender, ethnicity, etc.) collected by the U.S. Border Patrol field officers. Partial or full facial images are used for the purpose of quality control (i.e., no iris was collected because the person blinked or the eye was otherwise obfuscated and to ensure the camera does not mislabel a right iris as a left iris). The limited biographic information together with the facial images will assist NIST researchers in determining the accuracy of the iris imaging technology. For example, if it is determined that the technology works with some individuals, but does not work well with people within a specific age range or ethnicity; the technology may be deemed unsuitable for DHS until performance is improved.