The eyes have it

Biometrics Management Office

Members of the Pentagon Athletic Club are trying out a new piece of equipment — an iris scan system.

The Defense Department Biometrics Management Office is in the middle of a three-phase "quick look" project using iris scan technology to access the athletic club. Members are voluntarily signing up to test the Pentagon system, which involves capturing data from a member's identification card and iris, said Maj. Steve Ferrell, executive officer for the Biometrics Fusion Center, the testing and evaluation facility for the Biometrics Management Office.

"It takes no more than two minutes to enroll and verify a new user, which includes downloading the new template to the server," Ferrell said. The enrollee can then gain access to the athletic club with the iris scan and a member ID card. Ultimately, the goal of the project is to eliminate the member ID-based system and move secure access procedures to biometric technology.

After the Oklahoma City and Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, federal workers seem more open to new technologies that will improve security, said Rich D'Adamo, president of Workforce Solutions LLC, a consulting company based in Hunt Valley, Md.

"There definitely seems to be a general acknowledgment among federal employees that the ID card and metal detector systems being used to gain access to most federal buildings are vulnerable," he said. "I don't sense there is widespread acceptance of smart card technology at this point primarily because of the perception that the cards will require uploading personal information that could be used in a Big Brother-type scenario." However, fingerprint and iris scanning seem to be more widely viewed as less intrusive, D'Adamo said. Iridian Technologies Inc.'s IrisAccess 2200 system detects an individual approaching the imager. Once the person's eye is 3 inches to 10 inches from the mirror in the unit, a camera captures an iris image, which is digitally processed into a 512-byte IrisCode template, according to company officials.

A search function performs real-time database matching at the remote unit. When an iris matches a valid IrisCode template in the database, access is granted almost instantly.

Moving from member IDs to the iris scan system will enable not only secure access to the facility for members but also "promote convenience for them since they will not have to carry anything on their person," said Linda Dean, director of the Biometrics Management Office, adding that it also helps Pentagon staff members verify the identity of people attempting to gain access.

The project has 100 enrollees and more people enroll daily, which is promising because the Pentagon Athletic Club has about 8,000 members, according to Ferrell. Feedback has been positive. "The members can't wait to not have to use their ID card when they are running," he said.

Richard Norton, executive director of the International Biometric Industry Association, said the key to a project such as this is getting necessary information to the participants, such as how the system works, what it's used for and what the benefits are. "Once people understand how it is used and why, their trust in the system will be significant," he said.

Norton said the iris scan technology has benefits for both users and the athletic center because ID cards and passwords are no longer necessary, expiration dates are obsolete and athletic center employees no longer have to take the time to check people in.

Any privacy concerns should also be allayed because an individual's iris data cannot be used for any other purposes. "Nothing can be done to abuse it," Norton said, adding that if anything, the iris scan system should enhance privacy.


Phased approach

The Defense Department's Biometrics Management Office's "quick look" at iris scan technology at the Pentagon Athletic Club involves three phases.

Phase one involved demonstrating iris scan technology to the athletic club's staff. Phase two, which began July 23, involves enrolling members into Iridian Technologies Inc.'s IrisAccess 2200, said Maj. Steve Ferrell, executive officer for the Biometrics Fusion Center. Phase three, scheduled to begin Aug. 30, will involve using IrisAccess 2200 as the sole tool for access into the athletic club. Ferrell declined to comment on the project's cost.

DOD's quick-look projects involve testing and evaluating commercial off-the-shelf biometric products for a specific DOD security access requirement. If testing determines that the product satisfies the requirement and if resources are available, the tool can undergo more aggressive testing as a Biometrics Fusion Center pilot project, which would determine whether the product should be deployed at a service, agency or command.


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