By: Michael Hartwell
Sentinel & Enterprise News
Worcester County Sheriff Lewis Evangelidis looks through an iris scanner in his West Boylston office as he discusses how the Sheriff’s Office is offering the scans as a way to identify missing children and seniors.
By: John Love (Sentinel&Enterprise)
WEST BOYLSTON — Children can mislead, the elderly can forget, but Worcester County Sheriff Lewis Evangelidis said the eye never lies.
Iris-scanning identification, a staple of spy films and science fiction, is already being used by law enforcement, and Evangelidis is putting the word out to parents and community leaders about his effort to scan children’s irises to store in a database.
Sometimes law-enforcement officers encounter lost or missing children who do not know their full names or addresses. They can now use a smartphone app to view the child’s eyes to see if his or her information has been entered into a database. If it is, the information will come up within seconds.
“We want to make this another tool in the law-enforcement toolbox to protect people,” Evangelidis said.
This month, his community-outreach team started setting up a booth at fairs and other community events to scan the eyes of kids for the database. Participation is strictly optional, and Evangelidis said children are automatically scrubbed from the database when they turn 18.
The scans will not take place at schools. Evangelidis said he wants to make sure all children entered into the database have parental consent.
He also gave the example of Elizabeth Smart, an abducted child who was convinced to lie about who she was. She was encountered by law-enforcement agents several times, but gave false information. Evangelidis said iris-scanning would have changed that.
“The iris never lies,” Evangelidis said.
Three years ago, the Worcester County Sheriff’s Office started the eye-scanning program for seniors with Alzheimer’s and dementia. Thousands have signed up, and the inclusion of children is an expansion of that program.
Evangelidis said the eye scan, which captures the details of the iris, are the most accurate biometric available. The iris is 10 times more identifiable than fingerprints, which can change in older people.
The iris, however, never changes. Even identical twins have different irises.
Shawn McKenna, community-outreach coordinator for the Worcester County Sheriff’s Office, demonstrated how the scanner works. Individuals lean into the visor-like device and look through the glass. A camera quickly takes a photo, and the person’s information is typed into a computer.
McKenna said a scan of only one eye is needed for the system to work, though “we like to get both eyes to be as accurate as possible,” he said.
The image of the iris and the information are then put into a database in Phoenix maintained by The Nation’s Missing Children Organization and Center for Missing Adults.
The database is national. Evangelidis said if a child wanders off at an amusement park in Florida and has his eyes checked by a law-enforcement officer, their information will still come up.
He said sheriff’s departments in other counties in Massachusetts have already rolled out similar programs.