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Police turn to scan of iris to track kids
Technology's use just getting under way

COLUMBIA - A new technology that could help authorities track missing children relies on eyes instead of fingerprints.

The Richland County Sheriff's Department is one of the first in the nation to join the database, which stores a digital image of a person's unique iris, the colored part of the eye around the pupil.

The department expects to get the equipment, which is being donated by the Children's Identification and Location Database Project, early next month.

Sean Mullin, president of the CHILD project, said he notified law-enforcement agencies about a year ago and Sheriff Leon Lott was one of the first to respond. Lott's enthusiasm led his group to donate the $25,000 system.

The project's spokesman Kevin O'Reily said the FBI has about 150,000 missing-child cases that are unresolved.

"It will probably take two or three years before we start to have a significant impact because it will take that long to get that many systems out there," O'Reily said.

At least 1,200 other law-enforcement offices have requested the machine, Mullins said, adding that the goal is to have the entire country online in three to five years.

Children stand about a foot away from a camera that takes a picture of the iris, which stretches in the first six months after birth and leaves marks. After that, it doesn't change.

Parents get a driver's license-sized card that includes a picture and the iris scan. Then parents can decide whether to release the child's information to the national database or just keep the card.

It takes about 15 seconds for the iris to be photographed and about nine seconds to search the database for a match.

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