Tuesday, November 30, 2004

Eye scans at airport for U.S.-bound travellers

I was contacted by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation yesterday to comment on a new inititiave to speed cross-border travel between the US and Canada for "low risk" travellers. New technologies allow pre-screened passengers to skip through customs and immigrations after confirming their identity with an iris scan:

Eye scans at airport for U.S.-bound travellers:

"...The iris scans are voluntary, and no one is compelled to go through a process that critics say is invasive.

But Halifax privacy lawyer David Fraser says increasingly, people are deciding it's worth it.

'Survey after survey says that people are concerned about their privacy, but they really don't put their money where their mouth is,' he says.

'It's easy to tell a pollster that, but when it comes to trading privacy for convenience, people often chose convenience.' ..."


Anonymous said...

How are iris scans invasive? Surely iris scanning raises fewer privacy implications than DNA sampling, fingerprinting, voiceprinting, facial recognition, etc., because iris scanning (unless I am missing something) cannot reasonably be used for surreptitious identification or surveillance.

In other words, you KNOW when your iris is being scanned. You don't necessarily know when someone takes a sample of your fingerprints or DNA for testing (like the characters on CSI or Law & Order who will retrieve a suspect's discarded cigarette butt or pop can).

Also, keep in mind that iris scanning is passive, and generally considered non-invasive physically. (Unlike a retinal scan, which involves directing a laser beam into the eye.)

The ideal, from a privacy perspective, would be the right to cross international borders anonymously, without answering anybody's questions, without being subject to search.

That isn't realistic. It is reasonable for countries to demand (at the very least) the name of any person wanting to enter the country. A passport or driver's licence is the usual way of verifying identity, but the problem is that there can be a lot of false positives in comparing a live individual, by sight, to a passport photograph. It is not difficult to fool a border guard by finding someone who looks like you and "borrowing" their passport. An iris scan is a more accurate identifier, without the privacy risks of DNA or fingerprinting.

Anonymous said...

Here are two links discussing iris recognition technology with reference to privacy implications:



Obviously these are not objective, they are from the web site of a company that makes iris scanning equipment. I would be very interested in seeing a rebuttal to the information on those pages.