Iris scanners use near infrared light to photograph the ridge pattern of the iris, a pattern both unique and complex enough to be quite secure. The technology is well-established. Iris scans can be spoofed by high-definition images and models, and so require an additional liveness test. The FAR and FRR values come in at a respectable 0.0001% and 0.01% respectively, about ten times more accurate on average than fingerprint scans.

Iris information is often registered by large government databases to establish official identity, alongside fingerprints and 2D facial images. Airports and border crossings use it to streamline security. Scientists at CERN clock in with it, as do many tech business employees. Families use it to buy groceries in the world’s largest refugee camp.


Iris patterns are unique and remain stable throughout life (with the exception of severe eye damage, intraocular lens implants, glaucoma, or cataracts). Once registered, verifying iris information is quick and easy. Iris scans can conveniently identify people wearing the naqab (burka) or other face veils. Production and supply chains are already established. The technology makes up for many of the defects of fingerprint scanning, so the two are often used in conjunction to increase accuracy and security.

Downsides and Controversy

Initial registration typically requires multiple scans, which can be uncomfortable or annoying. In practice, the machines can be annoying to adjust for different heights. Cheaper commercial versions can be fooled with a high-definition image. Controversy surrounding iris scanning revolves mainly around privacy and consent, for two main reasons. First, providing iris information is essentially compulsory for many people. In parts of India, for example, exercising voting rights or collecting a pension requires registration in the Aadhaar program. Law enforcement agencies in many countries regularly register iris information as a matter of protocol, without soliciting consent. Second, several institutions claim to have developed long-range iris scanners. While some laud its usefulness for law enforcement, with the potential to find missing persons or prevent human trafficking, other point to its potential for covert identification and police-state repression.

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