What Are the Applications of Iris Recognition?

G. Wiesen

The two major applications of iris recognition are identification and access control, though these are not mutually exclusive concepts and one is often used for the other. Identification involves the use of an initial image captured by an iris scanner, which is saved in a database, and then can be used to identify that person again later. This type of technology is already being used to more quickly identify passengers and personnel for aircraft and at border crossings, as well as for identification of children. Uses of iris recognition in access control typically involve the use of biometric scanners that require an iris scan to allow access to a computer system or to open a door.

Iris recognition technology takes advantage of the fact that no two irises are alike.
Iris recognition technology takes advantage of the fact that no two irises are alike.

Iris recognition is a process by which a camera takes a photograph of a person’s iris, which is the structure that surrounds the pupil of the eye. This image is then used to generate a mathematical identifier unique to that person and his or her iris. Such methods are less intrusive than retinal scanners that can shine infrared light into a person’s eye, and are more unique than fingerprint identifiers.

One of the most common applications of iris recognition is in identification for a number of different purposes. Once someone has his or her iris scanned initially, then an identifier for that person is generated that is unique to him or her. This identifier is based upon the structures of the iris, which does not change due to aging and is unique even between identical twins and triplets.

Iris recognition for identification can then be used to quickly and securely identify individuals. Crew and personnel working in airports or on airlines can use this type of identification to more quickly and easily establish identity at security checkpoints. Iris recognition has also been used at busy borders in Europe and other areas, to allow people who frequently cross international borders to do so more easily. Identification through this type of recognition can also be used for tracking prisoners in law enforcement and military bases, as well as for children who can then be more easily looked for in case they go missing.

Access control is the other major application of iris recognition that has been used so far, and it usually relies first on identification. A doorway, for example, may be locked and can only be unlocked through proper recognition of approved individuals, usually through biometric scanners that can be used to recognize irises of those individuals. Computer systems can be similar regulated, by requiring a scanner to recognize the iris of an authorized user before allowing decryption and access to a system. These types of iris recognition security systems are becoming increasingly affordable and are likely to be developed and deployed further as the technology becomes more accessible.

You might also Like

Readers Also Love

Discussion Comments


@pleonasm - They already do that with cellphones I think. I've heard that in some cases they will send you vouchers when your cellphone passes a particular store.

I can't imagine that iris scanners would end up being that ubiquitous for a while though. Right now the technology is in its infancy and they just haven't sorted out all the ways in which it can be exploited.


@pastanaga - The iris recognition immigration system is usually just a precaution, and won't be used for anything unless you commit a crime or outstay your visa or something like that.

I know this isn't exactly politically correct, but I don't care so much if the government has my identification information (at least in a democratic country) but I would be very worried about letting out my iris recognition scan to a private company.

The thing about an iris scan is that it could potentially be done anywhere. I can imagine it being used as a means of identifying you in a mall, for example, to tailor advertising to what they hope will help to tempt you to buy.

Fingerprint identification can't be used like that, at least not with the same ease.


I actually found it to be very unnerving to be subject to iris recognition technology the last time I went overseas. Apparently it's becoming more and more common though, so I guess I will have to get used to it.

I didn't even like having to be fingerprinted when I was a volunteer overseas, because it just feels like it's too easy for governments to exploit that information.

Having to scan my iris when I was just entering a country seemed like they were almost expecting me to cause trouble.

Post your comments
Forgot password?