Above: an advertisement on DHS' "Responder Knowledge Base" website. Police agencies nationwide can buy mobile biometrics systems and many other like technologies with DHS funds.
Iris scanning biometric technologies allow for the capture of an individual's unique iris pattern by taking a photograph. Images of irises are stored in databases and used as identifiers like fingerprints. Unlike fingerprints, however, iris scans can be captured from up to six feet away, on surveillance cameras or still cameras, even when the person being photographed is unaware of the spying. The technology and its deployment are advancing rapidly. Iris scans are already being used in law enforcement, immigration enforcement, military surveillance, retail shopping, and in prison-release programs. One manufacturer of iris scanning technology thinks that soon, everyone in the world will use iris scanning for access to buildings, their credit and banking data, and more. He envisions a world in which our eyes are clocked and monitored everywhere we go.
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Facial imaging biometrics has refined the technology in recent years with 3D imaging and infra-red cameras overcoming early flaws such as strong sunlight or darkness making a comparison difficult. It is now possible to make a positive identification under any lighting conditions and while the subject is moving towards the camera.
Still, there are problems. In July 2011, a Massachusetts man filed a lawsuit against the state because a face recognition system had identified him as someone else, and sent him a letter warning him not to drive because his license had been suspended. He says that it took far too long to work out the problem and get his name cleared. He was misidentified by a face recognition software program run by the Registrar and the State Police, which was paid for with a $1.5 million grant from DHS. Turns out the system makes more mistakes than manufacturers would like to admit. Last year alone, the machine picked out 1,000 people who contested their identification as misidentification, warranting State Police investigations.
Facial recognition software is one of the thousands of items DHS has authorized federal, state and local grant recipients to buy with their federal dollars. Just like with iris scanning technology, face recognition technology systems are in use throughout all levels of law enforcement in the United States. The Department of Justice maintains the largest collection of face images in their facial recognition data base, containing approximately 75 million entries.