Monday, December 5, 2016

Minority Report

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Once the purview of science fiction films like “Minority Report” where cop on the run Tom Cruise had to duck eye scans virtually everywhere to escape detection in retail stores, office buildings and mass transit systems, state-of-the-art science is closing in on Iris Scanner technology that can identify people from up to 40 feet away.

So say researchers at Carnegie Mellon University’s CyLab Biometrics Center have been testing and perfecting an iris recognition system effective up to 40 feet away. The field of study is known as “Unconstrained Long Range Iris Recognition” and the technology that makes it possible relies on eye characteristics as unique to an individual as fingerprints are now.

One application could be the use of Iris Recognition at traffic stops where police can pull you over and identify you if you make the mistake of looking at the police cruiser in your rear or side view mirrors. The technology captures an image from a live photographic or video feed and runs it through a database to find a potential match.

Moreover, you will not know you are being scanned because high-resolution cameras that capture images of the iris from a distance use light in the near-infrared wavelength band – beyond the visual range of the human eye.

But will people be willing to allow their eyes to be scanned by Big Brother?

They will if they want a driver’s license or passport… or want to travel by air, rail or boat… or open a checking account – and government could mandate a child’s iris scan at birth.

People already give up biometric information voluntarily including photos and fingerprints on documents and privacy experts believe governments could make everyday life impossible for people unwilling to comply. And if you have a run in with the law, iris scans can be added to the booking process along just as mug shots, fingerprints and DNA profiles are collected now.

There is no reason to worry just yet. Even the best systems are not ready for primetime and are years away from affordability, wide distribution or use by trained operators.

Scanners require a stationary subject with a straight on point of view. Current scanner accuracy is also easily impaired by glasses or contact lenses – and is useless with subjects wearing sunglasses.

Still, it is important to keep an eye on technology that further intrudes on privacy – sometimes without the informed consent of individuals – and strict controls need to be established and enforced on how images are taken, stored and purged.

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