FBI's stock of 434,000 iris scans is growing fast
According to the latest reports, the Federal Bureau of Investigation has stockpiled over 434,000 iris scans of arrestees over the last 3 years. The database is growing very fast reportedly, with the FBI collecting 189 scans daily as of early 2016. While the FBI have argued that such technology is crucial for law enforcement, it also raises questions about privacy of US citizens.
The origins of the FBI iris scan programme
The FBI's iris scan programme was started in 2013 as an experiment to test the practicality of an iris database. The FBI, which already had 30,000 iris scans then, collaborated with national and local partners to develop a searchable database. The programme, part of the FBI's Next Generation Identification database which goes beyond fingerprints, encompasses iris scans, palm print scans and facial recognition technology.
The original iris scanning systems
Iris scanners were initially deployed by the United States military in Iraq as a security measure to verify which local civilians were authorised to work in US military bases.
How does the iris scan system work?
The technology, using infrared photography, works by capturing a detailed image of ridges in the eye's iris. The advantage of the technology is that the ridges are more detailed than fingerprints and can be scanned much faster allowing law enforcement officials to detect offenders quick. The average iris recognition time from scanning an iris to search results being returned is 7.8 seconds.
Is the FBI bypassing provisions of the Privacy Act?
According to the Privacy Act, Federal agencies are required to provide privacy impact assessments for projects involving personal data of citizens. An initial privacy review in 2014 stated that the iris scan programme was too limited in its scope to be assessed. However, since most of the 434,000 scans were added afterwards, it raises questions about whether the FBI is adhering to the law.
Major contributors to the FBI's database
Documents from the California Department of Justice show that of the 434,000 iris scans, over 250,000 were contributed by the counties of San Bernadino, Riverside and Los Angeles. The FBI also receives contributions from the Pentagon and the US Border Patrol.