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Identity Management Supplement

Child's Play

Iris recognition system makes nationwide registry of missing children a reality

"DON'T you love it when a plan comes together?" said Sean Mullin, president of BI2 Technologies and founder of The CHILD ProjectTM, a secure, nationwide network and registry that enables law enforcement and social service agencies to positively identify missing children and adults using iris recognition biometric technology.

After only 18 months since the launch of the program, more than 1,600 sheriff's offices in 25 states are now using the system, making The CHILD Project an unqualified success.

Innovative Applications
The genesis of The CHILD (The Children's Identification and Location Database) Project dates back to 2004, when Mullin was president of The Point Group, a national technology consulting firm based in Plymouth, Mass. The focus was on developing innovative and effective biometric-based information technologies to help improve public safety. One of the clients, Sheriff Robert Garvey of the Hampshire County Sheriff's Office in Northampton, Mass., was among the first sheriffs in the country to have the company's inmate management and tracking system (IMAT) -- using Panasonic's iris recognition system -- installed. He was convinced of its value for quick and reliable positive identification.

Based on positive experience with iris recognition technology and also in part with his involvement with the Molly Bish Foundation, Garvey approached Mullin and Sheriff Peter Flynn, a consultant with The Point Group, with the idea of creating a national database to assist identifying missing children.

"Needless to say, that conversation is forever etched in my memory," Mullin said. "Sheriff Garvey was enthused with the technology and felt strongly that it could be more fully used than for just tracking inmates or for time and attendance. We immediately began our initiative to put together a plan to develop a product, create a database to manage the enrollments and get the word out."

Developing the Idea
IMAT was developed by The Point Group and was the foundational technology for The CHILD Project, but new developments in iris recognition cameras demanded the group look at iris recognition camera system alternatives for the new endeavor -- and the search led to Panasonic and the company's BM-ET330.

"We needed an iris recognition system that would capture both irises, be easy and non-intimidating to use and be portable," Mullin said. "The reader fit the bill perfectly because of its small footprint and portable design. Additionally, it included an advanced self-prompting user guidance system and height-adjustable cameras, tamper protection using the latest 3DES encryption and a recognition speed of less than one second."

The reader offers a two-camera system with one-glance authentication for both eyes without any physical contact, which also eliminates wear and tear and contamination issues. The specialized system captures a detailed close-up of the iris, and the system's biometric software, developed by Iridian Technologies Inc., makes a template or map of each person's iris pattern for storage in the system. To verify identity later, an individual simply looks into the iris reader and the system compares the patterns in the person's iris against the templates stored in the database. If there's a match, identity is verified.

The system has a published error rate of one per 1.2 million, and Mullin noted its accuracy was a selling point of the technology.

"With the sensitivity surrounding a missing child, it is crucial that the technology employed be accurate and reliable," he said.

The iris recognition technology provides one-to-many searches instead of one-to-one searches, as with fingerprint systems. By comparison, files needed to store iris data are smaller than those for fingerprints -- 512 bytes compared to 1.5 MB -- making data easier to store and access.

Tie it All Together
During the research and development process, The Point Group was sold, and Mullin went on to form The CHILD Project in October 2004 with a specific focus on iris recognition technology. His next step was to approach the Nation's Missing Children Organization (NMCO) in Phoenix, to discuss the possibility of establishing and maintaining a first-of-its-kind, national database designed to identify and locate missing children and adults through the use of iris recognition technology.

NMCO was on board with the idea immediately.

Success From the Start
With NMCO and Panasonic as partners, The CHILD Project was ready to launch in May 2005. Garvey played an instrumental role by helping obtain the endorsement of the National Sheriff's Association, leading to the participation of more than 1,100 sheriffs across the nation.

"I was pleased by the fast acceptance of the program," Mullin said. "Law enforcement is continually looking for new ways to incorporate and maximize technology, with available funds from state and federal agencies, as well as private foundations. The CHILD Project iris recognition system gives them another tool to help find missing persons because peoples' iris patterns remain the same for life after one year of age."

In designing the system, it was agreed that enrollment would be entirely voluntary and parents would have to sign a consent form in order to enroll their children in the program.

"We had to ensure that people were comfortable with the enrollment proposition and avoid the perception of Big Brother," Mullin said.

Based on this philosophy, the only data collected and stored, in addition to the iris image, is name, age and contact information for the child. In addition, all information is expunged from the system when the child turns 18 years old.

After only 18 months since the launch of the program, more than 1,600 sheriff's offices in 25 states are now using the system, making The CHILD Project an unqualified success.

"There are many reasons for the success of The CHILD Project, and one of them is surely the reliability and ease of use of the iris readers," Mullin said. "It's simple for sheriffs to use, it's non-intimidating to the children and it's dependable in its operation. As I said earlier, don't you just love it when a plan comes together?"

For more information on BI2 Technologies and The CHILD Project, contact Patricia Lawton at (508) 224-1600, ext. 309.

This article originally appeared in the January 2007 issue of the Security Products Identity Management supplement, pg. 26J-26K.

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