can be used to register people into other databases, such as the Inmate Recognition and Identification System, Sex Offender Registry and Identification System and the Senior Safety Net. Those databases work in much the same way the CHILD system does, except the procedure is mandatory for incarcerated individuals.

Leonard said he hopes for widespread adoption of these programs, especially the Senior Safety Net.

"Our population is aging," Leonard said, "and with that comes a larger number of persons who may suffer from Alzheimer's or dementia."

The county paid $35,000 for the system. One scanner and the software costs $25,000, and a second scanner is an additional $10,000. The equipment necessary to run the operation includes: the CHILD Project software, an iris recognition enrollment camera, a digital camera, one laptop computer and licensing dues, O'Reilly said, adding that there are no annual costs for support or maintenance.

Eye scanning is similar to the older method of fingerprinting, but it is not intended to completely replace fingerprints, according to O'Reilly. The two can work together, and Galveston County plans to continue using both forms of identification.

"The two technologies complement each other," Leonard said. "As a practical matter, the biometric scan technology is much faster and easier on the enrollment side. Ideally a person could be enrolled both ways."

One advantage of eye scanning is file size. The iris code file is only 688 bytes, whereas most live scan digital images are around 1.5 megabytes. "So, from a storage and retrieval perspective," O'Reilly said, "iris is much more cost-effective while being around 12 times more accurate."

One drawback of iris scanning, O'Reilly noted, is its lack of forensic value. Perpetrators can't leave scans of their irises at a crime scene the way a fingerprint or DNA sample could be matched if found.

Eyeing the Future

Leonard doesn't see privacy issues as a big concern but will work with parents to address any question they may have. O'Reilly said when a child turns 18, his or her information is removed from the CHILD Project, unless he or she is missing.

"The most important aspect of the system is that the information can only be retrieved when the person who has been enrolled looks into the camera, which will allow the system to conduct a search of the database to match the iris code with the registration information," O'Reilly said. "We have also been careful to only include information that would reunite a missing person with their caregivers, such as name, address, age, emergency contact name and number. We do not seek Social Security or driver's license numbers."

O'Reilly said BI2's goal is to scan the irises of 5 million children over the next few years.

"The company is very much focused on seeing the system implemented in as many counties as possible across the nation," he said. "We are very encouraged with the amount of interest that has been generated over the past two years and will continue to work with sheriffs to help identify funding mechanisms to purchase the system."

Leonard said he hopes all children in Galveston County will to take part.

"As the database grows across the nation," he said, "the possibility of finding such missing persons becomes greater."

Creighton Welch  |  Contributing Writer