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Eye Scans Becoming the Future of Identification

In the future, border control agents in airports may no longer rely exclusively on passports to identify people traveling abroad. That's because an experimental eye scan system is being used at several airports around the world that identifies people by their eyes, rather than their passports.

It's one of the newest weapons in fighting terrorism, while helping passengers get through border control more quickly. The eye scan uses a sophisticated digital device that recognizes people by their iris - the colored part of their eye. Like fingerprints, no two irises are alike. As this border control official demonstrates, passengers put their passport through a scanner, take a brief look at a camera, and a few seconds later walk through a gate. The eye scan can track people's movements and check if they're on terrorist watch lists and police criminal databases.

Hubert Steiger, head of border security at Frankfurt Airport, said "the main purpose of this test is to avoid bad people passing this iris recognition and at the moment we have no information that it is possible."

Mr. Steiger said the new technology does not hurt the eyes. He says it's the most accurate biometric system today - recognizing people through their unique biological characteristics.

"At the moment it's human beings who compare the document with the person. And human beings may make mistakes," says Mr. Steiger.

Thousands of people have enrolled in the voluntary program at Frankfurt Airport. They must be at least 18 years old, and a member of the European Union or from Switzerland. They go through a quick computerized background check, and sign a data security document. Then a high-resolution digital camera photographs both their irises. A computer stores the images and the biometric information is transferred onto a passenger's passport.

One man, who just signed up for the program, says the eye scan will save him from standing in long lines at border control. “I'm a frequent traveler coming in from Japan, at the moment, for instance and I'm living in Brussels, in and out into Germany. And it's important to me, that's why I want to get a fast border check, and this is the best way apparently. Biometrics is the future. That's it," he said.

Mr. Steiger says although the iris scan works most of the time, sometimes the experimental technology does not always function properly. "At the moment, it still has little mistakes, but we expected that," says Mr. Steiger.

Eventually, officials say, biometric information will become as commonplace in peoples' passports as entry and exit stamps.