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How is iris recognition changing the world in which we live?

Iris recognition remains one of the most accurate forms of identification available. Each iris is unique, so if a person has both irises scanned for identification purposes the chance of mistaken identity is extremely remote. And, unlike several other human characteristics currently used for identification, iris patterns stabilise by age 10 months and remain the same until the end of life.  

Once an expensive and complex identification solution, recent technological developments mean iris recognition is now becoming a more cost-effective option for a range of organisations and businesses, moving it closer to the mainstream. Here are a few of the areas where this technology is changing the world in which we live.  

Smart Technology  

We have already started to see the roll out of Iris Recognition technology to smart phones and devices. Samsung were the first to explore the opportunities that exist to incorporate Iris Recognition technology into their phones as a method of authenticating and unlocking your device and it is likely that other major brands such as Apple, Google and Huawei will follow suit. 

In a bid to keep their customer’s information as safe as possible, Samsung added Iris Recognition alongside other forms of biometric security in their Galaxy S8. Iris Recognition sits alongside fingerprint and facial recognition and can be combined with the more traditional password and pin. These additional security features assure users that access to their most personal information is protected. 

There are still issues that persist around the use of Iris Recognition as a primary method of authentication on mobile devices. One of the major stumbling blocks is the lack of control of capturing conditions. Iris Recognition relies on consistent background lighting – something that can be difficult to manage on a mobile device which can lead to user frustration. Other barriers to implementation include the computation power of mobile devices which cannot keep up with the algorithm required to correctly identify and authenticate the iris. This again can lead to user frustration due to the slow experience of unlocking a device. 

One area where we might start to see Iris Recognition more widely rolled out on mobile devices is as part of a two-factor authentication process for privileged access to apps such as internet banking and even secure email access. This would present an opportunity to use Iris Recognition sparingly rather than for every unlock of the device, adding to the security of those most relevant apps whilst maintaining a customer experience that is not frustrating and creates an extra level of trust in the security. 

Finance and Fraud Prevention 

An area that has seen huge growth in the last ten years is the Financial Technology or ‘FinTech’ Industry. This sector aims to use new technologies to make Financial Services more accessible to the general public. Within this industry iris recognition is increasingly being used as an authentication tool for online banking apps due to the increasing availability of cost-effective IR technology. So, if your mobile device includes iris recognition technology then it’s worth checking whether your bank offers this option as an alternative to less secure verification methods. 

While the use of the iris scan is very much an ‘opt-in’ option for the FinTech sector, it has also been used successfully in much broader applications. For example, in fraud prevention and social benefit scenarios:  In 2009 the Government of India set up the Unique Identification Authority of India and enrolled 1.25 billion Indian citizens in three years in their ID card programme, recording both iris and fingerprint data of each citizen. This has had an enormous impact on reducing social benefit fraud and is used to ensure aid goes to those most in need. Previously more than half India’s Government aid was routinely fraudulently appropriated.  

Following this success, countries such as Indonesia, Singapore and Mexico have followed suit with their own versions, some including iris patterns on passport data.  

Another example of the social impact iris scanning has had across the globe is in early 2013 when the UN High Commissioner for Refugees began the UN-Iris ID program. This program has used iris recognition to identify and manage financial aid distribution to refugees of conflicts in Syria, Sudan, Myanmar, Afghanistan and Malawi.  

Border Security  

This sector was a front runner for the use of iris recognition as a form of biometric security. Non-invasive, highly accurate and quick to deploy, the advantages of iris recognition have been utilised by security staff at airports, borders and corporate security services for the past twenty years. Several countries including the UAE and Saudi Arabia began utilising this technology for visa applicants as far back as 2002. However, this technology can now be considered global, with a vast array of countries using iris recognition to determine visa applicants are who they say they are – including the Netherlands, Canada and the US. The US also uses Iris technology to scan and create a database of all United States Military personnel to increase security and access authorisation for military facilities.  


While it’s safe to say that some of the sectors discussed above have benefitted from the use of iris recognition for quite a few years now, the healthcare sector is a relatively recent adopter of biometric solutions but it’s an area of rapid growth. Don’t be surprised the next time you go to your healthcare provider if you’re asked to update your records with an iris scan. Why is this such a growth area? Here are a few of the key benefits:  

Using biometrics such iris recognition allows healthcare providers to easily identify individuals and match them to their medical records. Recently the World Health Organisation listed accurate patient identification as one of nine priorities to improving patient safety globally. Making this a priority means reducing the number of mistakes due to misidentification and record duplication in healthcare systems. Consequently, patient care is expediated while ensuring the correct medication is allocated to the correct individual. Using biometric tools such as iris scan for identification is also particularly useful when the patient is unable to provide information to assert their identity due to illness or inability to effectively communicate.   

Increased access to healthcare is crucial to the advancement and protection of any society. With medical advancements and increased access also comes increased pressure on health services to deliver quality care in a timely manner. Digitalisation of records is a vital tool in reducing the pressure, replacing time consuming paper systems that are vulnerable to human error and oversight. Automated systems can use iris recognition to validate health insurance claims, speeding up repayments, stabilising funding and protecting future healthcare initiatives.   

Iris Recognition Software at NEC 

Last year we were pleased to announce that NEC Iris Recognition software ranked first in the NIST (U.S. National Institute of Standards and Technology) accuracy testing. This means that among the 13 participating groups, our software had a matching precision of 99.33% for near-infrared iris images. As a global leader in biometric identification technologies we are dedicated to continuing to further improve the accuracy of authentication technologies such as Iris recognition products and services.  


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