Airports opt for iris, facial ID technology

Although fingerprint biometrics are the clear front-runner in the government's race to secure the nation's borders, a quick scan of airports here and abroad offers ready evidence that applications based on iris scanning and facial recognition are also thriving.

For instance, Charlotte/Douglas International Airport in North Carolina is using a sizable iris-scanning application to secure the facilities of the nation's 20th largest airport in terms of passengers.

About 4,500 transportation workers and airport employees are now enrolled in the system, which was installed at minimal cost by EyeTicket Corp., a company eager to prove the merits of iris scanning.

"It is just a little box that you look in," said airport director Jerry Orr. "It is not intrusive, and almost immediately you are identified and your access is captured."

About 1,500 employees per day perform this exercise at the airport's four checkpoints, which are outfitted with EyeTicket's EyePass system.

"There is a broad range of people in the system. We have all categories of employees, from vendors to contractors to airline employees" and Transportation Security Administration employees, said Stewart Mann, EyeTicket's chief executive officer. EyePass affords users the choice of storing data in central repositories or as part of staff IDs. The company claims that in Charlotte, more than 400,000 transactions have taken place without any false matches or security breaches.

Meanwhile, Germany's Berlin International Airports, the authority for Schoenefeld, Tegel and Tempelhof airports, chose Viisage Inc.'s facial recognition technology over fingerprint imaging and iris scanning, mostly because decision- makers considered it a small leap for employees to go from carrying IDs with photos to having their faces scanned.

"The process of facial recognition in its 'manual' form is already known to everybody, because of the everyday presentation of the staff card, which includes the photograph, so [the] usual work routine is not disturbed," said Rolf Castro-Vasquez, the airports' managing director of traffic.

Indeed, facial-recognition vendors promote user acceptance rates and often point to the law enforcement stigma associated with fingerprints. "Facial recognition has real value in that it is not intrusive, and having an image of their face taken is something that people are very comfortable doing," said Bernard Bailey, Viisage's president and chief executive officer.

The Berlin airports originally hired German facial-recognition company ZN Vision Technologies AG, which Viisage is in the process of acquiring. ZN Vision developed the Berlin system using its ZN-Face product, which uses graph-matching methodology to mimic the way humans process images of faces. ZN-Face examines 1,700 facial features and is designed to recognize individuals regardless of variable conditions such as environment or facial expression.

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