Passport agency: 'Iris recognition needs work'

The UK Passport Service claims that iris recognition technology is currently not flexible enough for widespread deployment

The UK Passport Service (UKPS) claims that iris recognition is still not an accurate enough method of biometric identification for mainstream deployment, following extensive trials of the technology.

Speaking at the Biometrics 2005 conference in London on Thursday, Rob Bowley, director of ID Projects with the UKPS, said the current technology needs to be improved to carry out more efficient biometric scanning. "We've got a lot of work to do — the technology has got to work in all environments. We will be looking at various types of iris cameras," he said.

The UKPS carried out the first large scale UK trial of the three main biometric techniques in the UK between 14 April, 2004 and 24 December, 2004.

The trials, which took place in various government offices in London, Newcastle, Leicester and Glasgow, involved simulating the enrolment process associated with entering biometric details into a central database.

Around 10,000 participants were involved and researchers from the UKPS measured the amount of time taken to process each individual and how customers reacted to the technology.

Participants in the trial were used to test three biometric devices, including facial-, iris- and fingerprint-scanning technologies. Attempted enrolments took eight minutes and 15 seconds on average. To accurately simulate a large scale deployment, the trial databases were pre-loaded with 118,000 irises and one million fingerprints. "It wasn't a trial of the technology; it was a trial of the way technology interfaced with the people," explained Bowley.

The success rate for iris enrolment (the term used to describe the process of registering an iris image on a system) out of 10,000 participants was 90 percent and 60 percent for able-bodied and disabled users respectively, compared with the 100 percent and 96 percent for fingerprint recognition.

The UKPS said that the trials revealed that much of the current iris scanning technology is not flexible enough to cope with the demands of dealing with a very variable public. In particular, participants with visual impairments and above average height could not access the system easily and sometimes could not access it at all.

However Bowley admitted that a lack of skilled operating staff was also to blame for the difficulties with iris biometrics. "You can have all the best equipment in the world but if you have badly skilled staff operating the systems you will still get bad results," he said.

If iris recognition is going to be widely deployed then manufacturers must create flexible technology that adapts to the variation amongst individuals rather than the current one-size-fits-all system, said Bowley. "We need systems that can be adjusted for all the different types of people. Very tall people and those in wheel chairs suffered problems with accessing the machine," he said.