While mass monitoring of internet and phone communications, along with image- or video-based technologies such as automated license plate readers and facial recognition, have received increasing media coverage in recent years, one area of surveillance — iris recognition — has gotten less attention. But that is starting to change.
Earlier this month The Intercept, which reported shortly before President Trump’s inauguration that his administration would likely expand biometric surveillance, published an in-depth look at the latest push for increased security measures along the U.S.-Mexico border, describing iris recognition as “just the latest surveillance technology helping fortify what the White House hopes will make up a ‘digital wall,’ a concept that many border sheriffs view as less intrusive than Trump’s envisioned 30-foot barricade stretching from Brownsville, Texas, to San Diego, California.”
According to the article by reporter George Joseph, sheriffs representing each of the counties along the border voted unanimously in April to begin a free three-year trial of iris recognition technology from the company Biometric Intelligence and Identification Technologies, or BI2.
“In the coming months, BI2’s iris recognition devices will be installed in every sheriff’s department along the U.S.-Mexico border,” Joseph writes. “Each department will receive both a stationary iris capture device for inmate intake facilities and, eventually, a mobile version, according to Sheriff Joe Frank Martinez of Val Verde County, Texas, who currently serves as the president of the Southwestern Border Sheriff’s Coalition.”
But eye-scanning technologies will not be limited to the Mexican border. Last month, a New York-based company called Clear reportedly began operating at Los Angeles International Airport, where it is starting to charge travelers for the supposed privilege of having their faces and irises scanned to pass more quickly through security checkpoints. Clear kiosks are already reportedly operating at several other airports, as well as sports stadiums.
Meanwhile, nearly two years have passed since Citigroup partnered with the company Diebold to begin a pilot program of iris scanning at ATMs. Iris recognition will likely even soon be available to unlock your smart phone (although at this point “Most popular biometric scanners are trash,” Jack Morse of Mashable notes).
“Many government organizations and corporate buildings already use iris scanning as a means of restricting access to certain areas of high security,” Ethan Ayer, CEO of a company called Resilient Network Systems wrote in a blog post last year. “While biometrics have played a vital role in government and law enforcement, the use of biometrics technology in the private sector has grown exponentially.”
While a majority of Americans remain concerned about the scope of government surveillance, if past trends involving similar technologies are any indication, the use of iris recognition will likely continue to expand with little organized opposition, save for a few dedicated privacy advocates.