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Friday, 8 February, 2002, 15:07 GMT
Airport tests passenger eye IDs
Passenger undergoing iris scan
The iris is scanned at immigration and matched
Heathrow Airport is testing a new hi-tech identity system which examines a passenger's eye, rather than their passport as they go through immigration control.

Heathrow is the first UK airport to carry out a large-scale trial of the iris recognition technology, which was unveiled at the airport on Friday.

The aim is to speed up the movement of passengers through the terminal and detect illegal immigrants.

A total of 2,000 passengers who frequently fly from North America to Heathrow on Virgin and British Airways flights are taking part in the five-month trial.


Each passenger will have an image of one of their eye's iris stored on computer.

Instead of showing their passport on arrival they will go into a kiosk where in seconds a camera will check that the pattern of their iris matches computer records.

If so a barrier will automatically open.

The trial will test the technology and gauge passenger reaction.

We expect this technology to be eventually taken up at airports throughout the world

Evan Smith
EyeTicket Corporation

The EyeTicket JetStream iris recognition procedure, developed in the US, is considered the highest accuracy, single factor identification method in the world.

Evan Smith, senior vice president of the EyeTicket Corporation, said this was the culmination of four years' work.

He said: "The iris is much more unique than the fingerprint and is the most unique thing on the outside of the human body.

"We've had a very good early response and a flood of applications.

"We expect the trial to be extremely popular and expect this technology to be eventually taken up at airports throughout the world."


It is hoped the technology could have future security benefits, with UK airports still on alert following 11 September.

BAA Heathrow's managing director Mike Temple said: "With this trial we hope to establish that iris recognition technology can prove to be a safe, effective and highly accurate means of ensuring passengers on arrival are legitimate entrants to the UK."
Passenger undergoing iris scan
The process is harmless and takes a few seconds

The trial was arranged by the International Air Transport Association (IATA) Simplifying Passenger Travel Interest Group, which includes airports, airlines, immigration authorities and technological suppliers worldwide.

More "automated iris recognition stations" are planned for New York's JFK airport and Washington's Dulles Airport.

The entire procedure only takes a few seconds and there is no contact with the body or with lasers or other potentially harmful light sources.

Passengers taking part are being asked to carry their passports during the trial period should immigration officials want to check their details.

The BBC's Sue Nelson
"The iris is as unique as any fingerprint"
See also:

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Keeping air passengers safe
16 Oct 01 | Asia-Pacific
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26 Sep 01 | Business
UN agency reviews airline security
21 Sep 01 | UK
Q & A: Airport security
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