The FBI plans to test a database for searching iris scans nationwide to more quickly track criminals by 2014, according to budget documents and a contractor working on the project.

The Next-Generation Identification system, a multi-year $1 billion program already underway, is expanding the server capacity of the FBI’s old fingerprint database to allow for rapid matching of additional physical identifiers, including facial images and palm prints, according to an article from Nextgov.

Increasingly, law enforcement agencies are spending state and federal funds on iris recognition technology at jails to monitor inmates, the article says. Some Missouri prisons are buying the same system the FBI acquired, partly so that they can eventually exchange iris images with federal law enforcement officials. And many counties are storing pictures of prisoner irises in a nationwide database managed by a private company, BI2 Technologies.

The FBI expects to collect many of these state and local iris images, according to BI2 officials and federal documents.

According to the article, a May 17 budget justification document states one of the “planned accomplishments for BY13” – the budget year that begins Oct. 1 – is to “demonstrate iris recognition capabilities via the iris pilot.”

A June FBI advisory board memo that Nextgov reviewed states, “supervised release/corrections are candidates for the pilot, being that many already have the capability in place. The additional goal is to start to build an iris repository.” Iris recognition is a helpful identification tool, according to the memo, because it “is very accurate,” does not require human intervention and “the hardware footprint is also very small [due] to the size of the iris image.”

The aim of iris recognition at corrections facilities, according to law enforcement officials, is to promptly catch repeat offenders and suspects who try to hide their identities, Nextgov reports.

Officials at the Pinal County Adult Detention Center in Florence, Ariz., appreciate the non-intrusiveness of the BI2 iris recognition system, which does not touch prisoners’ faces when snapping photos of irises or scanning eyes for recognition, the article states. The inmates place their eyes 3 to 10 inches away from binocular-like lenses, which record the iris image, so wardens stay out of harm’s way during head counts, county officials said. The technology also ensures the center does not mistakenly release similar-looking siblings, twins or parents, when one family member comes up for parole, they added.

President and Chief Executive Officer Sean G. Mullin said BI2 Technologies has been working closely with the FBI unit chief responsible for implementing NGI. “BI2 Technologies provided the FBI [Next-Generation Identification system] over 12,000 iris images from current law enforcement agency clients for analysis and testing by NGI,” he said in the article. Company officials said they were not aware of a specific pilot program that has been undertaken to demonstrate iris searching capabilities.

Mullin said his company was told the FBI plans to conduct an iris pilot in 2014. Local agencies in 47 states now participate in BI2’s nationwide Inmate Identification and Recognition System, or IRIS, which has been operating for six years, he said.

According to Nextgov, FBI officials declined to comment on progress using NGI for iris matching.

The interstate network that BI2 maintains uses a high-resolution camera to obtain an image of an offender’s iris during the booking process, Nextgov reports. Special software then transforms the picture into a digital file that is encrypted and stored with the company. For recognition purposes, the camera takes a live shot of an individual’s iris, and the software then compares the new image with archived iris pictures collected during intake to confirm the person’s identity.

“Everybody that gets booked into our adult detention center, we get a capture of their iris. That gets hooked to their photo. And then everybody that’s being released goes through the system again to make sure we’re getting ready to release the same person,” said James Kimble, deputy chief of the Pinal County Adult Detention Center.

There have been concerns about privacy and data security, especially in the wake of the 6-million password breach on LinkedIn and eHarmony. But cybersecurity experts are quick to note that a lack of encryption was at fault there.

According to Nextgov, BI2’s iris images are “encrypted using strong cryptographic algorithms to secure and protect them,” the company website states. “Thus, standing alone, biometric templates cannot be reconstructed, decrypted, reverse-engineered or otherwise manipulated to reveal a person's identity. In short, biometrics can be thought of as a very secure key: Unless a biometric gate is unlocked by using the right key, no one can gain access to a person's identity.”

The average iris recognition time – from when an image is captured to when an officer receives a response – is 7.8 seconds, Mullin said.

During a six-month period at the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, BI2’s system immediately spotted 119 repeat offenders previously booked by the department who provided different names and identification to avoid detection, Mullin said in the article.