Iris scan fails to stop returning deportee

Banned European tells court eyes were scanned but machine did not recognise her.

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ABU DHABI // A woman from eastern Europe who was deported from the UAE re-entered weeks after her departure using a new identity, despite an iris scan, the Federal Supreme Court heard. EA, from Azerbaijan, was discovered to be using a fraudulent passport in 2008. She was reported to the police, faced trial and sentenced to deportation. To prevent her from returning, her eyes were scanned before she left.

But, according to her testimony in court this week, she returned to the UAE through Dubai International Airport using a forged passport and a different name. She said her eyes were scanned upon entry. She moved to Abu Dhabi where she began working as a nurse at Al Noor Hospital, she said. She gained a labour card, residency visa and even opened a bank account. Last August, she was reported and arrested. The first hearing in her case was on Monday.

When the judge asked her how she could have re-entered the country despite the iris scan, she shrugged. A senior Ministry of Interior official, who has in-depth familiarity with the scanning programme, said the machines were essentially foolproof. "If her eyes were scanned, there is no way she could have defied or cheated the iris scan, not even if she came in with any passport," said the official, who did not want to be named. "The data in her eyes do not change, unless she changes her eyes."

The iris scan was introduced in 2003 at major ports of entry to help prevent previous offenders from re-entering the country. The recognition cameras were manufactured and supplied by the technology company IrisGuard. The UAE was among one of the first countries to adopt the system, and has the "largest iris database and most searched", according to the IrisGuard website. But the official said that, by law, some foreigners, including those from some western countries, were not required to have iris scans upon entry.

"She could have used one of these passports when she re-entered," a representative for the company said. The nationality of the fake passport used by EA to enter Dubai is unknown. Although there were glitches in the system when it started, "for the past three or four years, we have not heard of a single case of someone getting around this", the representative said. In some deportation verdicts, the court can enforce a ban of six months, one year or a lifetime. In most criminal cases, the offenders receive a lifetime ban.

"A note on her file can say a temporary ban, but, technically speaking, there is no way around it," the IrisGuard representative said. The UAE manages its own database that operates in real time, which means that an iris scan on the UAE-Oman border, for example, can instantly be seen on a terminal at the Dubai airport. The UAE does not share this database with other countries. All matters deemed to involve national security are handled at the Federal Supreme Court in Abu Dhabi, regardless of where the crime is alleged to have occurred.