Robin Muchetu, Senior Reporter
THE Government has secured 70 iris recognition scanners that will be installed at all the country’s major ports of entry and will see all travellers having their eyes scanned to allow the biometric system to authenticate information on their passports.
At the moment, immigration officers physically check if the face on the passport matches with that of the holder of the travelling document, a system that was susceptible to abuse as some people could use other people’s passports. According to scientific sites, iris recognition scanners scan the iris of the eye and match the information on the passport. The machine can measure the unique patterns in the coloured circle of the eye to verify and authenticate a person’s identity. It is contactless, fast and is renowned for its accuracy and can operate at long distances, the modality only requiring a glance from a user.
In an interview last week, Home Affairs Deputy Minister Cde Obedingwa Mnguni said the iris recognition scanners were acquired with the help of the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (Comesa). Zimbabwe is a member of the 20-member Comesa trade bloc. A pilot project will soon be run at the Harare International Airport before being rolled out to all major borders and airports.
“We received the iris scanners and there are 70 of them. We got them through Comesa and we will install them at some ports of entry for a pilot project before we install at the designated places throughout the country,” he said.
Cde Mguni said the scanners will enhance security and match international standards.
“We secured these iris scanners so that we match other developed countries and also those in the region in terms of security.
So with this development, we are certainly improving our own and neighbours’ security,” he added.
The use of the machines at the borders, added Cde Mguni, would also enable the Government to weed out corrupt elements who were abusing the system.
“With this new technology no one can uses another person’s passport like what some corrupt people were doing because the information will not tally with the Iris scanner. Everyone has to use their own passport,” he said.
Some omalayitsha (cross border transporters) have been working in cahoots with immigration officers who allowed them to stamp passports of individuals who will not be present so that it looks like they crossed in and out of the country yet the individuals will be in neighbouring countries. Other individuals have successfully crossed the borders using passports of relatives or even strangers who look like them. At one time there was a cartel of people who were stealing passports and using them to smuggle people into other countries using those travelling documents.
Cde Mguni said his ministry has now shortlisted companies that will run the software for the pilot phase before roll out.
“We are looking for a reputable company that will run the software and Comesa will have to approve it first before they run it because it has to be a competent and reputable company as this involves security of nations. We have short listed some companies already,” he said.
The Iris recognition scanners, once installed will facilitate quick movement of human traffic and facilitate easy trade. Apart from weeding out corrupt elements, Cde Mguni said the method will also facilitate quick movement of people. This will also help inflow of tourists. There have been complaints that people are made to spend long hours at border posts due to the slow immigration procedures.
“This will help even tourists that will come into the country. The process will be faster now. It also facilitates trade within nations and the system will be linked to other Government departments,” he said.
The Iris recognition scanner will give immigration officials an opportunity to check the person physically while other details are confirmed by the information on the system.
The country’s points of entry have been cited as porous over the years, in some instances allowing both goods and human beings to find their way in and out of the country illegally.
This was compromising the security of the country as well as depriving the country of potential revenue. A number of countries use different ways to screen people at the borders but the use of iris scans is mainly pronounced in European countries.