Are iris scanners the answer to security? And would we permit them?

How far would you go to capture a known terrorist? To apprehend an escaped killer? To detain a man who raped a child? To catch a woman who, through fraudulent business practice wrecked a major financial institution, causing millions to become near destitute over night? If someone asked you to strap on a firearm and confront them as they attempted to board a flight to escape, would you do it? Perhaps join in with several of your fellow citizens to physically bar them from getting on that plane? I think many of us would do those things and more. But here’s another question: would you consent to stepping in front of a small camera as you passed though security at the airport and allow them to scan the iris of your eye to identify you as you enter the secure zone?

In spite of being a staple of TV shows and science fiction stories, the technology not only exists today, it’s actually in use. Just not here in the US. From a story:

Thanks to privacy concerns and infrastructure issues, iris scanners aren’t planned for the U.S., a DHS spokesman told Airports and security checkpoints could use the machines, which take an instant picture of the eyeball from a few feet away and compare it against an internal database, in the hunt for terror suspects or illegal immigrants. They’re not.

But nothing has stopped the United Arab Emirates, India and Jordan who already use the technology at airports and border crossings, and a major U.S. company will soon announce another major deployment elsewhere in the world.

In UAE, we’ve scanned more than 40 million people from all nationalities and caught 600,000 trying to come back over the years by changing their name,” Imad Malhas, the founder of manufacturer IrisGuard, told

Emphasis mine. The very notion of scanning biometrics runs into tremendous opposition here in America. The story mentions the movie “Minority Report” that came instantly to my mind when I started reading this story. In that movie, starring Tom Cruise, the ubiquitous scanner tech was literally everywhere and used for purposes ranging from law enforcement to tailoring an automated greeting when entering a clothing store. A scene of Cruise’s character, John Anderton, walking through a mall shows the scanners being used to change up the advertisements being displayed and customizing them. Have a look:

The movie was going out of its way to present it as an all-seeing, invasive kind of experience largely because Anderton’s character was about to go on the run. The ease by which he could be identified was part of the challenge for the character, wrongly accused of being about to commit a crime. (Yes, “about to commit.” Long story. See the movie.) While depicted in the worst possible light for the movie, let’s just turn that on its head for a moment and suppose that the character in question was actually guilty of some heinous crime and was about to get away by fleeing the jurisdiction. Or, say, was about to enter the jurisdiction with the plans and means to engineer a terror attack?

One of the more surprising items in the news story I’ve linked is the report on how often current identification technologies fail to correctly ID someone. Crime shows like CSI and NCIS give the impression that identifying someone by fingerprint is a sure thing as long as they’re in the system at all. But, according to the story, fingerprints produce a false ID – that is, they identify someone as the owner of the prints when, in fact, they are not – in about 1 in 10,000 cases. Facial recognition tech is even worse, producing a false ID in 1 of 100 cases. Iris scanners, however, appear to have an accuracy measured in a false ID rate of 1 in 100 million, far, far better than the other technologies. And it’s relatively fast, too. You also don’t need someone to come into physical contact with anything and if they’ve grown a beard or are wearing a hat, that’s immaterial to the iris scanner’s ability to conduct the scan.

So, how about it, readers? If we could deploy these scanners at our points of entry and catch repeat illegal aliens attempting to bust our borders or identify people attempting to cross using false documents, would you be willing to let them scan you as you pass?