Iowa State Daily: Story County introduces iris database

The Story County Jail will soon be scanning the irises of all current and new inmates as part of a biometric identification program that nearly 200 other agencies nationwide utilize.

The iris scans, which recognize 256 points of reference according to both the Story County Sheriff’s Office and BI2 Technologies, the company that manufactures the hardware and software adopted by the Sheriff’s department.

Iris scanning is nothing new to the Story County Sheriff’s office as it has been using the same type of technology to develop databases of iris scans as part of their ChildSafe project and its Senior Safety Net project, said Story County Capt. Barry Thomas.

“We’ve had the iris-scan capabilities since August of 2008,” Thomas said. “This new unit that we got is the latest and greatest; it was given to us through a federally-funded grant.”

The National Sheriff’s Association received a grant through the Department of Justice and allocated the money though the C.O.P.S. program to sheriff’s offices throughout the nation to equip them with iris scanning biometric technology.

As with any databasing technology, the more people that access and utilize the scanning software and contribute to the database, the bigger and better the database will be.

Pat Lawton, senior development officer at BI2 said BI2 has been in business for about five years and by the end of March will have sheriff’s offices using the database in 40 states.

“There are about 3,000 sheriff’s departments in the United States, and we are in many of them,” Lawton said.

She said that while BI2, a private company, maintained the various databases which link a person’s retina scan to profile information determined by the parameters of the database they are placed in, private individuals could not gain access to the information.

“Your average person would have no reason to buy the software,” Lawton said. “Right now our system is for law enforcement.”

Lawton said that sheriff’s offices paid $9,995 for one iris-scanning unit and the software that gives them access to the national database.

“They can get the software alone and we’ll gladly put it on other computers that they have for $4,995,” she said. “It really isn’t that expensive, for what we do.”

One benefit to implementing a system like this is that retinal scans are a much smaller file than a fingerprint scan is and can therefore be stored more easily, Lawton said.

“It’s a 512 byte code,” Lawton said. “It just takes up less space to store.”

Thomas said he thought this kind of technology would replace fingerprinting for identifying people but stressed that iris scanning wouldn’t be helpful for forensic purposes.

“You can’t leave an eye-print at the scene of a crime,” Thomas said.

Lawton said she thought its lack of forensic use would make people more comfortable with the technology and apt to use it, which would, in turn, make the database bigger.

The scanning equipment essentially works like a digital camera, Thomas said.

It takes a series of 30 frames per second and is supposed to retrieve a person’s history from the database if they already have a profile in place.

Lawton said it would be nearly impossible to misidentify someone who already had a retina scan in the database.

“So far we’ve never come back with a false positive,” she said. “The United Arab Emirates has done about 200 billion iris scans and they’ve never had a false positive either.”

By Rashah McChesney

Daily Staff Writer