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Schiphol backs eye scan security

A computer registers an iris scan, this one at the CeBIT technology fair
A computer registers an iris scan, this one at the CeBIT technology fair  

AMSTERDAM, Netherlands -- Amsterdam's Schiphol airport is claiming success in a biometric security system that scans eyes and allows passengers to bypass traditional passport control.

Schiphol is one of several major European airports embracing new technology to win back passenger confidence amid security fears following September 11.

London's Heathrow is holding similar trials while some U.S. airports, including New York's JFK and Washington's Dulles, are also considering the scheme.

Some of the gadgets tested look like they come from the set of "Star Trek" but officials say they do work.

The Schiphol project, called Privium, has been on trial since late last year. Although it was originally designed to speed up the passport control process, officials say it also tightens security.

Passengers register personal details first. Then a picture is taken of their iris -- the coloured diaphragm that controls the size of the pupil -- and recorded on a card, which looks like credit card.

Once the checks are complete, passengers pass through gates inserting the iris scan card and looking into a scanner where their eye is compared with the information on the card. Europe
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Travellers must pay about $90 to enrol for the Schiphol Privium scheme, says spokeswoman Pamela Kuypers. "Any passenger from the European Economic Area (EEA) can join. At the moment we have about 1,500 people signed but we hope to get more by the end of the year."

Privium is initially targeted at business travellers who are pushed for time. "Even the quickest of fast-track passport and visa controls can take up to 30 minutes," says Kuypers. "The biometric passport control, which took us three years to develop, only takes 10 seconds each time -- ideal for business travellers."

The system will also be used for internal security at Schiphol. "We are in the process of issuing smart cards to all airport workers and installing iris scans around the high security areas," added Kuypers.

The makers of iris scanning technology say it can recognise and match every person's identity in seconds and is fool-proof.

Max Snijder, business development manager for Joh-Enschede, the smart card company behind the Schiphol experiment, said other forms of biometric technologies like fingerprint and facial scans cannot offer the same accuracy.

"A scratch to the finger or scar on the face can make biometric identification more difficult," said Snijder. "The eye is most accurate to be used in security screening because it never changes and is undamageable. Glasses or contact lenses don't affect the scanner's accuracy."

Airport delays, but for $90 and an eye scan you can avoid the wait
Airport delays, but for $90 and an eye scan you can avoid the wait  

Some passengers may feel uneasy about having their eye screened by a camera. But Schiphol officials say the trial has shown most people get used to the method quickly. "It becomes routine to most passengers after the first few times and we have got very positive feedback from the trial," says Kuypers.

Frequent travellers using the system are the most enthusiastic supporters of the iris scan, according to the Dutch authorities. "The service also entitles them to privileges like business class check-in with the nine participating airlines, even when travelling economy class, and priority parking next to the terminal," added Kuypers.

Airport authorities also say iris scanning can weed out impostors. The British Airport Authority (BAA), which has been working with the scheme at Heathrow, says the risk of fake identity is minimised because biometric information is unique to every individual.

"The registration process makes it impossible to falsify the data," said a spokeswoman. "Even if the information card gets stolen, the passenger will still be able to prove his or her identity with the iris scan and we can issue a new card."


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