Iris scanning to begin at German airport

Testing on a biometrics system that identifies people by iris patterns is set to go into effect at the airport in Frankfurt, Germany. The project involves 18 European countries.

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A test of an iris-scanning system is set to begin Saturday at the Frankfurt, Germany, airport, as part of a project involving 18 European countries.

Airline passengers will be required to stand in front of an identification device whose cameras will automatically capture images of their iris patterns, companies participating in the trial said Friday. The iris systems--seven of which have been installed at the airport--will then identify the passenger's iris and match that information with the passport data captured by a scanner. If successful, the iris system could replace conventional systems for checking identity at airport immigration counters.

Initially, residents of European Union countries and Switzerland who fly frequently with Lufthansa will be able to take part in the trial at the main Frankfurt airport, after getting their iris data registered. Full-scale service will be launched after the six-month trial, according to Byometric Systems and Oki Electric Industry, companies implementing the project.

Following the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in the United States, airlines and high-tech companies launched a number of high-profile security experiments. Many put into effect or looked into secondary security checks such as card readers and biometric devices, but civil libertarians and privacy advocates decry such experiments as invasive.

"It must be guaranteed that the registered biometric characteristic can be matched absolutely correctly," Otto Schily, Germany's minister of the interior, said in a statement. "Iris recognition is currently considered to be the most secure biometric system."

Byometric and Oki said the complexity and randomness of the eye's iris patterns make them more difficult to fake than other biometric patterns, such as fingerprints.