Imad Malhas, the chief executive and co-founder of
IrisGuard, the Jordan-based iris-recognition company, wants to
revolutionise the way people bank, shop and regard security. Here
he talks about his ambitions for rolling out the iris-recognition
technology as the next form of popular payment.  Farah Halime


IrisGuard, the Amman-based technology company
which specialises in unique iris-recognition technology, first
caught the attention of some of the Middle East’s border security
executives in the United Arab Emirates when hundreds of banned
workers attempted to return to the nation to obtain work illegally,
with few security procedures in place.  

But since the company installed its service at
the capital’s airport in Abu Dhabi, Imad Malhas, the chief
executive and co-founder of IrisGuard, says the software has caught
600,000 people attempting to illegally return to the

The IrisGuard machine scans irises, the
coloured part of the eye, enrolling that person’s unique genetic
data into its software.  Though at an airport, this might mean
enrolling newcomers to the country, Mr Malhas says in other
circumstances, the iris can become the “key” to purchasing
power.  Imad Malhas Q&A

“Can we introduce this technology to change
the way banks and other companies do business?” Malhas said,
referring to the way people access and pay for goods. Instead of
paying by credit card, or online, an iris scan could suffice, he

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“We’re trying to revolutionise the way people
regard security, and banking and shopping.  Soon it’ll be like
the cellphone: what did we do before?” 

The iris-recognition software is a force to be
reckoned with, and though Malhas admits the black boxes lining
immigration at the UAE airport are “ugly, they do the job”.  
Now his ambitions are to go beyond border security to the retail
banking and consumer market.  

He has been talking to two major retail banks
in the UAE about rolling out a system that would allow customers to
use iris scanning technology to withdraw cash at ATMs or identify
themselves to tellers.  

Cairo Amman Bank, a retail bank in Jordan, has
been offering this service since 2008. The bank’s 70-odd branches
in the region and 190 ATMs have been fitted with the cameras to
authenticate all banking transactions. 

At the time of launch, Kamal Al-Bakri, general
manager at Cairo Amman Bank said customers “overwhelmingly love”
the new identification approach, which is voluntary, adding that
customers preferred to access their banking through iris
recognition software over standard methods of PIN number or over
the counter.  

Though iris-recognition is totally unique,
some banks have moved to use biometric technology for access
control, rather than customer verification. Dutch financial
services group ING started using biometric fingerprint technology
in 2007 to control dealer access to workstations on its trading

Meanwhile, in February 2008 Société Générale
said it would implement biometric access controls for dealing
personnel after an internal investigation into the EUR5bn rogue
trading scandal at the bank found major weaknesses in its
supervision, security and control procedures.

Malhas says as long as security remains a top
grievance in society, IrisGuard will be able equipped to meet
rising demand.  

A survey released earlier this month by
Unisys, the information technology company, shed some light into
American consumers’ requirements over security and how much
information they are willing to give up to prevent

The report showed that more than half of
American citizens would be willing to provide biometric data, such
as the iris information IrisGuard requires, to add security for
banking transactions.   The data also showed that 60% would be
willing to give up biometric data for airport security, 53% for
government benefits and services and 46% for employer computer

Even 21% said they would be willing to provide
biometric information as part of logging into social media sites
like Facebook, as Mr Malhas is in the process of

The high security level of the IrisGuard’s
iris recognition system has led to various international
governments also teaming up with IrisGuard.  Some maximum
security prisons in the US are using the system to prevent
impersonations and mistaken releases and in South Africa the system
is being used by parents to enrol their children to protect against
child trafficking.  

The company is also in the process of
enrolling 1.4bn onto the Indian government’s software to help keep
track of the huge population.  

Malhas adds that he also expects to launch a
small, sleek offshoot of the iris scanner, the EyeSign, which
resembles an iPhone, next year.  It would allow users to
access banks and other encrypted websites securely from home or
from their laptop, and “order pizza with their eye, shop online
with their eye, bank with their eye,” he said. 

Though Malhas says he has faced some criticism
for how secure the iris-scanning system is in accessing banking and
other highly sensitive data, he remains a staunch advocate of the
iris as the best form of identity, against fingerprints which die
over time or can be damaged. 

“One iris is as good as ten fingerprints,”
Malhas says.  “There are lots of ways that finger prints can
let you down, but the iris is so unique and it is impossible to