Afghanistan: Do fingerprints point to Taliban?

Afghanistan: Do fingerprints point to Taliban? Targets?

A US solider collects biometric information from a villager

Getty Images

“We would go into villages and enrol people into this biometric data system,” US Marine Special Operations Command veteran Peter Kiernan recalls.

You had an approximately 12x6x6 inch device. The device would take pictures of the user, scan their retinas and fingerprints.

This week has been busy for Mr Kiernan. He was responsible for 12 interpreters in Afghanistan. He’s still trying to get them out of the country.

It is urgent for those who served with the US military to leave.

BBC recently viewed a document from the United Nations that stated the Taliban were intensifying their search for those who have worked with or collaborated in the Nato/US forces.

Some believe that the huge amounts of biometric information collected by the US military as well as the Afghan government pose a threat to anyone who is subject to reprisals.

Brian Dooley, a senior adviser to activist group Human Rights First, told the BBC’s Tech Tent podcast that while very little was definitively known, “a very educated guess would say that [the Taliban] either has or is about to get their hands on an enormous amount of biometric data”.

Soldiers like Mr Kiernan could add details about Afghans to a US biometric storage facility by using HIIDE handheld identification devices.

It was used for identifying bomb-makers and also to verify the identity of local contractors working with the US military.

Although the original goal was for 80% (25,000,000 people) to use the system, it is believed that the number actually reached was much lower.

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On Tuesday, news site the Intercept said military sources had told it that some HIIDE devices had fallen into Taliban hands, while Reuters reported a Kabul resident saying the Taliban were making house-to-house inspections using a “biometrics machine”.

An Afghan official told NewScientist this biometric infrastructure was now in the hands of the Taliban.

Kiernan believes it’s probable that some biometric data from the coalition is available to the Taliban, although it’s not certain if they have the technical knowledge to use it.

Annie Jacobsen (journalist and author) believes it unlikely that the Taliban would have access to large numbers of military biometrics data gathered by coalition members, even if they were in possession of HIIDE devices.

In case of corruption, she said that data would not be shared with Afghan partners in bulk.

The data from HIIDE devices are not kept in Afghanistan. It is stored at the Pentagon’s Automated Biometrics Identification System. Ms Jacobsen describes it as a “systemof systems” due to its complexity.

According to her, the Taliban may find social media more practical than traditional sources of information.

BBC asked US Department of Defense to comment.

Civilian data

Biometrics have been used by the Afghan government.

The Afghan National Statistics and Information Authority processed over six million applications to its eTazkira biometric identification card. This includes fingerprints and iris scans as well as a photograph.

For the 2019 election, biometrics including facial recognition were used to verify voter registration.

The country even launched a register of businesses and plans to collect biometric data from students in madrassas.

In 2016, an Afghan broadcaster reported that the Taliban had used a biometric reader to identify bus passengers who were members of the security services in a violent ambush that claimed 12 lives.

Publited at Fri, 20 August 2021 11:38.33 +0000

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