Forensic Optometry: Using Iris Identification to Find Missing Children

You’ve seen it on your favorite crime show or in an action movie where a character needs to enter a secret room, they walk up to a machine, look inside, and their eye is scanned to permit access. The technology being used is called Iris Identification. But does this type of technology really exist? Is this technology reliable? The answer to both of those questions is yes!

Iris identification is a method of biometric authentication that utilizes pattern and image recognition technologies to distinguish characteristics of an individual’s eye. The goal of iris identification software is to provide a near-instant, accurate recognition process of a user’s identity based on the digitally scanned image retrieved from each individual. While some biometric identification systems can use up to 60 unique characteristics, iris identification technology can utilize up to 266 unique points (including ligaments, furrows, ridges, rings, freckles, and collarets), providing a greater analysis of each users distinctive traits and identification. Due to the number of analytical points within a sample, iris identification technologies produce a recognition result that maintains a higher-level of uniqueness than finger prints, thus providing an elevated probability of user identification.

This type of recognition software uses small, high definition cameras with near infrared imaging (NIR) to create detailed-rich reproductions of the iris. Once a scan is captured, the iris’ connective tissue (the trabecular meshwork) is processed and generates an “optical impression” that is translated into a digital code which is unique to each user based on the traits of the optical impression. The digital code must be recognized by the software for a user’s identification to be processed.

One of major benefits of iris identification technology is the stabilization and template life of the scanned areas. Excluding significant trauma to a person’s eye, the characteristics and blueprint of each eye will not vary to a point where recognition will be compromised, thus providing a lifelong identification marker that can be difficult to reproduce. The scanning process can also take place while a user is wearing glasses or contact lenses and is less invasive than other biometric identification systems, making the process simplistic and user friendly.

Because of the uniqueness of each sample, programs like the Children’s Identification and Location Database (CHILD) are encouraging Optometrists to talk with parents about iris identification and about enrolling their children into a national database that has been created by the CHILD Project. By having a child’s iris template recognized and enrolled into a searchable national database, law enforcement will have the ability to identify a missing child in a few seconds and return the child to their families.