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The eyes have it: An identification process is tested

Irises may become a new fingerprint

NORTHAMPTON -- When Hampshire County Sheriff Robert Garvey started using technology that identifies people by their eyes, it was to keep order in his jail.

And what has been a system to keep track of visitors and prisoners at the Hampshire County House of Correction is now the latest way to detect a missing child or adult.

Joined by advocates for missing people, Sheriff Robert Garvey yesterday announced the creation of a database that matches a person's name with the patterns of his or her iris.

''There are lots of missing children this could probably help," Garvey said. ''Runaways, children who have been abducted."

Garvey gained support for his idea of using iris recognition technology to create a database from the Nation's Missing Children Organization and the National Center for Missing Adults.

Last year, the program was endorsed by the National Sheriff's Association, and more than 1,000 sheriff departments across the country have agreed to join the network during the next year, Garvey said.

Garvey's department is the first to start collecting iris images for the database. The sheriff said he plans to start visiting schools throughout Hampshire County in the fall; this would give parents the chance to enter their children into the database.

The program, called the CHILD Project, is meant as an addition to other ways of identifying children, such as by fingerprints. Like fingerprints, there are no two irises that are identical.

''You can't overlook the importance of having an up-to-date photo of your child and having their fingerprints on file," said John Bish of Warren, an advocate for missing and abducted children since his daughter, Molly, disappeared in 2000. Her remains were found in 2003.

''This is an extra tool that police can have," he said. ''But there's still no better protection . . . than a parent's eyeball."

Iris recognition technology has been used to increase security measures in places such as hospitals and airports. At the Hampshire County House of Correction, Garvey uses the system to register visitors and to restrict access to certain parts of the facility.

Getting registered into the CHILD Project system takes minutes. A digital camera snaps a shot of a person's eye, and stores it in a database with corresponding information about the person, such as their name, address, and who their parent or guardian is.

''There's no Social Security number in there, and this isn't used to do any kind of background check on anybody," said Sean Mullin, president of the CHILD Project, based in Plymouth. ''This is simply to identify who you are."

For a person to be identified by the system, they must stare into a lens that ''reads" their iris and searches the database for a match.

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