A public university in in Rock Hill, S.C., has announced it is implementing a new eye scanner system that collects and records data about the features of students’ eyes before granting access to school buildings this fall.
Winthrop University’s Associate Vice President for Information Technology James Hammond told Campus Reform the college plans to use the devices to stop “bad guys” from accessing buildings at the 445-acre campus.
The scanners, or “EagleEye stations,” cost an estimated $2,000 each. The university has already scanned the eyes of more than 1,600 of its students.
Winthrop University head of technology services, Patrice Bruneau, told WCNC-TV the school is taking extra precautions after Newtown, Conn., gunman Adam Lanza killed 26 people at Sandy Hook Elementary School and his mother Nancy Lanza, before taking his own life, on Dec. 14, 2012.
“The Newtown tragedy just got everybody’s attention,” Bruneau said.
Hammond told Campus Reform that students will be allowed to opt out of the program, but they are likely to have some difficulty accessing buildings.
"If you decline, in the future there may be some places where you have to use an alternative method of access which might inconvenience you," he said.
Hammond claimed the devices do not store photographs of students' eyes. Rather, they detect 250 unique features in the iris – 10 times more points of comparison than a fingerprint – and convert the information into digital data that is stored in the university system. According to advocates of iris scanning, the digital data is protected by layers of security and cannot be reconstructed. When students approach buildings, they need only look into the scanners to be granted access.
The Winthrop University website explains, "Eye features are unique to each eye, so those features can be stored alongside an individual’s name and other details in a database."
The use of eye scanners has caused some concern about privacy issues. In Florida, some parents were outraged when they learned the Polk County School District had been scanning their children's eyes without their consent in May. Parents were told they could opt out, but not before 750 children's eyes had already been scanned.
Winthrop University noted that the technology "has been around for several years at airports, hospitals and military bases."
Hammond argued that ID cards and security badges are not as effective as eye scanners.
"Iris scanners are very accurate and cannot be forged with today’s technology," he said. "ID cards are less effective because they can be passed to other users or stolen or even forged."
Bruneau told WCNC-TV, "With this system you gain convenience you might not see at first – like you don't lose your eyeballs at home."
Other countries have begun to embrace iris-scanning technology. India has iris-printed 350 million citizens for its national ID program and plans to scan all 1.2 billion people inside its borders. Likewise, Mexico has launched a $25 million program to fund the first iris-matched ID cards.
Also, in the U.S., the FBI has been constructing an iris-scanning system to track persons of interest.