Biometrics are an ideal choice for organizations wishing to better manage their physical identity and access management (PIAM) processes. Using biometrics, many processes related to background checks, physical access permissions and identity verification become more secure. However, not all biometrics are created equal. Iris recognition technology is quickly emerging as the preeminent biometric solution for PIAM — here’s why. 

Addressing Personal Privacy

Biometric technologies have long been plagued by misconceptions, and even some truths, regarding their ability to respect personal privacies. But it is here where iris recognition solutions shine in their ability to maintain a high level of security while addressing privacy concerns.

From a security standpoint, it is iris recognition’s accuracy that puts the technology head and shoulders above other biometrics. Irises are data-rich, allowing for 240 recognition points to be used to form its algorithmic template for verification. Fingerprints, facial recognition and hand geometry, conversely, have less detailed input in template construction. This is one reason why iris recognition can authenticate with confidence even when significantly less than the whole eye is visible.

In regards to privacy, iris recognition is not subject to the same privacy concerns that surround other biometrics as iris databases do not contain any images. 512-byte iris templates are encrypted and cannot be reengineered or reconstituted to produce any sort of visual image. Iris recognition therefore affords high-level defense against identity theft. Iris recognition applications are also generally opt-in, with users consenting to the enrollment and use of their iris biometric. This effectively eliminates the surveillance concerns often affiliated with facial recognition, which scans crowds looking for individuals.

Additional Benefits

Using irises for PIAM is a relatively simple process that alleviates many of the challenges associated with other biometrics. For example, iris recognition is a touchless, non-invasive process that effectively eliminates the costs and issues common amongst fingerprint-based solutions. Fingerprint scanners are high-touch surfaces that promote the spread of germs, and this form of identification often experiences recognition issues when sweat, gloves or debris are present. Iris recognition can eliminate the need for traditional 10-fingerprint enrollments used by law enforcement, which is a time-consuming process with expensive consumables that need to be stocked and replenished.

Furthermore, irises are more stable than other biometrics and can be utilized by a much wider population without fear of bias. The unique pattern in the human iris is formed by 10 months of age and remains unchanged throughout one’s lifetime, unlike faces and hands that can be affected by changes in age, weight, strenuous labor, trauma and other factors. And with each iris being unique to each individual, the estimated chance of encountering two identical irises is 1 in 1078. This extreme level of identification accuracy is essential to supporting higher security operations, fewer false rejects, and no opportunity for race- or gender-based bias. 

A Proven Solution

Iris recognition has already been widely adopted by many local, state and federal agencies who recognize the technology’s advantages for PIAM. This includes the United States’ principal federal law enforcement agency — the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). In September of 2020, the FBI implemented the Next Generation Identification (NGI) Iris Service, a database which provides the ability to capture, catalog and rapidly compare iris images to verify identities with up to 99% accuracy. The NGI is the world’s largest electronic repository of iris images and is used primarily to verify the identities of individuals entering and exiting correctional facilities. 

To date, the NGI Iris Service has enrolled over 2 million sets of iris images at the rate of approximately 100K new identities being added every month. The FBI encourages law enforcement agencies and corrections facilities across the country to adopt iris recognition technology into their existing biometric processes for criminal PIAM. Agencies ranging from the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department to the York County Sheriff’s Office are already utilizing iris recognition solutions to help improve operations and reduce costs. The U.S. Border Patrol even uses the technology, collecting up to one hundred thousand iris records per month to help identify those illegally crossing the border.

Implications for Integrators

The success of iris recognition technology is a testimony to its use as a trusted, reliable means of identity verification. In this way, iris recognition creates an exciting opportunity for security integrators looking to enter new markets such as law enforcement, aviation and beyond. The cost and time efficiencies further afforded by iris recognition make it an easy sell for integrators whose clients are considering biometrics for identity or access management purposes. 

Given recent workforce trends and emerging threats to both workplace and public safety, biometrics are becoming more necessary to confirm identities and control access in a secure, reliable way. Iris recognition alone leads this charge with its unmatched speed, accuracy and ability to perform without concerns for privacy violations or bias. As new iris recognition solutions continue to evolve, the deployment of this highly accurate and cost-efficient means of identity enrollment and verification will continue to expand to meet myriad new physical security, workforce management, and health & safety applications.