Homeland Security Department Begins Using Iris Scanners to Track Illegal Immigrants

iris scanner

Last month, we reported on Global Rainmakers Inc. (GRI), a biometrics R&D firm that's bringing iris scanning technology to Leon, Mexico. GRI aims to make Leon "the most secure city in the world" by dotting the city with scanners and creating an iris database to track all residents. Now, it appears the technology will be crossing the border sooner than we expected.

Today, it surfaced that the Department of Homeland Security is planning to test GRI's tech at a border patrol station in Texas, where it will be used to monitor illegal immigrants. Rather than continue to rely on oft-unreliable fingerprints, the DHS is experimenting with the scanners to see whether they have a viable future for border security.

As we showed you before, iris scanners are becoming more viable thanks to GRI's technology, which can scan up to 50 people per minute, from several feet away, while on-the-go (even running). Before, one had to lean close to a scanner for it work, standing still until the iris was captured. Iris scanners are also far more accurate than other biometrics (fingerprints, voice, etc.), and capture thousands of points of data with each scan.

Wary of the Minority Report-like potential, the technology has already sparked privacy complaints (not to mention a mountain of comments from Fast Company readers) from the ACLU, which is concerned that the scanners could be used to identity people without their knowledge.

Jeff Carter, chief business development officer of GRI, has remained optimistic of the technology, despite concerns. In a candid interview with Fast Company, he reasoned that much of our most personal data is already monitored by banks—with each credit card swipe—and that the technology will also provide many benefits, from personal convenience to improved security to digital marketing.

"In the future, whether it's entering your home, opening your car, entering your workspace, getting a pharmacy prescription refilled, or having your medical records pulled up, everything will come off that unique key that is your iris," he said. "Minority Report is one possible outcome. I don't think that's our company's aim, but I think what we're going to see is an environment well beyond what you see in that movie—minus the precogs, of course. The banks already know more about what we do in our daily life—they know what we eat, where we go, what we purchase—our deepest secrets. We're not talking about anything different here—just a system that's good for all of us."

The DHS's two-week pilot will begin in October.

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3 Comments

  • Jym Allyn

    Iris scanners are also currently being used in Afghanistan by US forces to identify suspected terrorists and criminal.

  • Nate O'Shaughnessey

    That's interesting, I didn't know that.
    Do they scan anyone that goes by, or are they being used to verify identity of those in custody?

  • Nate O'Shaughnessey

    Thanks Austin!

    In your last article about the Iris scanners, I mentioned illegal immigrantion control would be one of the first things this technology is used for. And boom, instant firestorm.

    I was told by other readers that my comment in the last article when I suggested our government would use it for this (and that I had a problem with that) was off-topic and that it was my fault that the state of Arizona was broke.

    Thanks for the update Austin, I'm guessing since the last article cranked out our over a hundred comments in a few days when it was hinted at that our governemnt might buy these too. You had to be at least a little curious as to your readers reactions with this one, right?

    Anyway, you're a great journalist and I enjoy reading your articles.