A look at futuristic technology that could scan refugees


Nearly two weeks after seven terrorists massacred 130 people and injured hundreds more on the streets of Paris, President Barack Obama stood alongside French President Francois Hollande on Tuesday and noted the government was developing “biometric information and other technologies that can make [scanning refugees] more precise.”

As International Business Times reported this week, refugees are already subject to an exhaustive vetting system that includes a series of verbal and in-person interviews with US security officials and typically takes 18 to 24 months.

So what exactly was Obama talking about when he referred to an expansion of “biometric technologies”?

As European and American politicians grapple with how to screen refugees for potential terrorist links, many governments are looking for smarter technology to monitor and verify a person’s identity as they cross borders. Much of this technology already exists, but because it is expensive, cash-strapped European countries have yet to make serious investments. This could change in the coming months.

A boom in bio-passports?

Stefan Lofven, Swedish Prime Minister, offers last week, the introduction of biometric passports, or “electronic passports”. Biometric passports have been around for a few years, but their use is gaining ground in the wake of impending terrorist threats.

These high-tech ID cards are embedded with a “smart card” that contains information such as fingerprints and facial scans, which help authenticate the identity of its holder. It is the same type of chip that is used in contactless smart cards or credit cards that allow wireless transfer of data. According to the State Department, there are are about 490 million electronic passports in circulation. This number will likely increase in the years to come.

IHS Technology, a New York-based global research firm, estimates ePassport shipments could reach 180 million per year by 2019. According to the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), 93 of the 193 UN member states already issue electronic passports, although only a small percentage of the country’s population in possesses. India and Japan, ICAO saidare developing their ePassport programs at the fastest paces.

The use of electronic passports is on the rise. Here is a map of the countries that already use them. Photo: ICAO

But the technology is advancing beyond smart passports. Perhaps the most interesting development is the use of eye scanners along borders. Similar to a fingerprint, a person’s iris contains completely unique information, making it an ideal source of biometric information that cannot be forged.

IrisGuard, a London company that makes the EyeGuard AD100, is already working with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees to collect information on Syrian refugees.

The operation is quite simple: a user looks into the binoculars-like device, which takes an image of the iris and converts it into a unique digital code. This code is then stored in a database housed within the UNHCR office for subsequent quick matching. Combined with extensive in-person interviews and cross-referencing with other documents, a person’s iris biometric data is then entered into a database.

In June, IrisGuard announced that it had collected 1.6 million eye scans from Syrian refugees. “This allows the agency to instantly execute operational transactions across the country in seconds, regardless of the refugee’s location,” UNHCR said. Noted on his blog.

e41408485867e44229833c6aa2c3217c IrisGuard scanners, like this one, collect biometric information about Syrian refugees. Photo: IrisGuard

The market around iris-scanning, in fact, is clearly on the rise, even if it is not yet booming. In November, Frost & Sullivan, a research firm, found that The iris scanning market generated revenue of $142.9 million in 2014 and estimates the market to reach $167.9 million by 2019.

The eye-catching technology is still in its infancy

Robert Haddon, security research analyst for Frost & Sullivan’s aerospace and defense team, warned that while iris scanning may be increasingly used for border control, it’s not yet an infallible system. “The main drawback of iris technology at the moment is related to the cost and the relatively small amount of iris data that authorities are likely to have on potential terrorist suspects,” Haddon said.

He added: “The real challenge for law enforcement will be to share this information while being sensitive to the data protection and transfer regulations that are already in place.”

Although none of the attackers in Paris were labeled Syrian refugees, politicians in Europe and North America began pushing for tighter border controls and tougher restrictions on refugees and refugees. immigrants. Republican presidential candidates Donald Trump, Ben Carson and Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida – along with 31 state governors – have sought to ban Syrian refugees altogether.

RTXVA3A A man puts his biometric passport on a scanner at an automatic border checkpoint during a media presentation at Zurich airport December 1, 2010. Photo: Reuters/Arnd Wiegmann

Meanwhile, some European governments, such as Poland, have also decided to shut down. “After Paris, we lost the security guarantees,” Konrad Szymanski, Poland’s new minister for European affairs, said last week.

These sentiments will likely fuel an investment in border control technology that is already growing rapidly. According to Visiongain, a London-based research firm, the global border security market will generate $16.4 billion in revenue in 2015, and that figure is likely to grow. It’s not just biometrics, however. Unmanned and manned vehicles, drones and digital tracking technology will also see a surge.

Yet for all the new high-tech advancements in eye scanners and futuristic passports, it’s perhaps the old-fashioned fingerprints that are seeing the biggest growth. Frost & Sullivan analyst Robert Haddon explains that since there is already such a large database of fingerprints, border control officers and law enforcement agencies can avoid “specialist” technologies like iris scanners.

“The fact that fingerprint systems are so widely used by law enforcement authorities and that facial recognition software can be deployed on existing camera systems without the need for specialized technology makes them much more likely to see increased investment,” Haddon said.

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