recommended reading

FBI and DHS team up to nab border intruders with iris recognition


The FBI is partnering with the Homeland Security Department to identify border trespassers by exchanging digital eye scans of booked offenders, bureau officials said.

Iris recognition -- which matches a digital image of the unique, colored portion of an individual’s eye against archived photos -- quickly ensures authorities have fingered the right crook, advocates say. Critics say iris capture invades privacy and wrongfully pulls immigrants into the deportation system.

“We’re working closely with border control” on iris matching projects, Brian Edgell, unit chief for the FBI’s enhanced biometric system, said during an interview on Thursday. The FBI’s traditional fingerprinting system is transforming into a $1 billion multi-trait repository called the Next Generation Identification program.

By law, the biometric databases at DHS and the FBI must be compatible. Immigration authorities, through a controversial fingerprinting program called Secure Communities, cross-check foreigners’ prints against prints from booked individuals.

Iris recognition is a logical extension of the program, Edgell told Nextgov after speaking at an information-sharing symposium hosted by the IJIS Institute. “Secure Communities is a Homeland Security Department program,” he said.  “I think iris is a way we can begin to build upon what we’re doing.”

The FBI gradually is collecting iris scans from state and local prison wardens who use the technology to track inmates. DHS increasingly is testing iris recognition at border stations to identify suspected illegal aliens, according to department officials.

Immigrant rights groups and privacy activists are not keen on the idea of digitizing and storing various physical characteristics of foreigners, some of whom, they argue, are mistakenly arrested and then extradited.

In addition to iris images, the new FBI biometric system is slated to ingest and search by late 2014 pictures of faces, scars, tattoos and other skin markings.

In June 2012, representatives from the National Day Laborer Organizing Network, the New York State Defenders Association, and the Cardozo Immigration Justice Clinic gathered at a federal advisory board meetingto confront the FBI about its role in what they call a “massive deportation program.”

FBI officials stress that Secure Communities is managed by DHS, and the only irises saved in the bureau’s system are from individuals who have come into contact with law enforcement.  

Iris recognition also has critics in the computer science field, who note eye pattern files can be duplicated by hackers and also degrade over time.

Officials for BI2 Technologies, a company that manages a nationwide database of iris images, say the files are encrypted for protection. “Standing alone, biometric templates cannot be reconstructed, decrypted, reverse-engineered or otherwise manipulated to reveal a person's identity,” states the website for the firm, which has worked with FBI program managers.

(Image via MountainHardcore /

Threatwatch Alert

Thousands of cyber attacks occur each day

See the latest threats


Close [ x ] More from Nextgov

Thank you for subscribing to newsletters from
We think these reports might interest you:

  • Modernizing IT for Mission Success

    Surveying Federal and Defense Leaders on Priorities and Challenges at the Tactical Edge

  • Communicating Innovation in Federal Government

    Federal Government spending on ‘obsolete technology’ continues to increase. Supporting the twin pillars of improved digital service delivery for citizens on the one hand, and the increasingly optimized and flexible working practices for federal employees on the other, are neither easy nor inexpensive tasks. This whitepaper explores how federal agencies can leverage the value of existing agency technology assets while offering IT leaders the ability to implement the kind of employee productivity, citizen service improvements and security demanded by federal oversight.

  • Effective Ransomware Response

    This whitepaper provides an overview and understanding of ransomware and how to successfully combat it.

  • Forecasting Cloud's Future

    Conversations with Federal, State, and Local Technology Leaders on Cloud-Driven Digital Transformation

  • IT Transformation Trends: Flash Storage as a Strategic IT Asset

    MIT Technology Review: Flash Storage As a Strategic IT Asset For the first time in decades, IT leaders now consider all-flash storage as a strategic IT asset. IT has become a new operating model that enables self-service with high performance, density and resiliency. It also offers the self-service agility of the public cloud combined with the security, performance, and cost-effectiveness of a private cloud. Download this MIT Technology Review paper to learn more about how all-flash storage is transforming the data center.


When you download a report, your information may be shared with the underwriters of that document.