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DHS Testing Iris Scanners At U.S. Border

Operational feasibility pilot will be run by the Department of Homeland Security at a border patrol station in Texas.

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The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) next month will test the use of commercial iris-scanning technology at a U.S.-Mexico border patrol station.

The DHS has not yet decided whether it will ever deploy the technology, but is conducting the two-week test at a station in McAllen, Texas, for operational feasibility, DHS spokeswoman Amy Kudwa said via e-mail Monday.

"This is a preliminary test of how the technology performs -- we have no specific plans for acquiring or deploying this type of technology at this point," she said.

Currently, the backend databases the DHS would need to successfully deploy the technology don't exist, and no DHS customers are requesting the use of such technology.

Iris scanners scan people's eyes and record information for identity purposes. The technology is controversial and has raised privacy concerns and objections from groups like the American Civil Liberties Union.

The test is being run by the DHS science and technology (S&T) directorate and co- sponsored by the national programs and protection directorate and US-VISIT program, according to a privacy impact assessment. It also leverages the joint expertise of DHS, National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), Department of Defense (DoD), and the U.S. Naval Academy.

The DHS is not disclosing which three companies' technology will be used in the test, which will be conducted on illegal immigrants that are identified and processed at the McAllen station.

The information collected will be stored on a secure system that is not connected to the internet nor to any DHS system, according to the privacy impact assessment. Identifying information of those whose irises are scanned will not be connected to the scan information. All the information collected is merely to test whether iris scanners perform as they are expected to perform, according to the DHS.

The federal government has been exploring the use of different technologies to bolster security at borders, particularly the one between the U.S. and Mexico.

One such project ran into a major stumbling block early this year. The agency had to stop work on a program called SBInet, which was to install a range of high-tech video cameras and remote sensors along border fences, due to delays and technology glitches. The project is pending review by DHS secretary Janet Napolitano.

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