US-built biometrics equipment is falling into the hands of the Taliban

US-built biometrics equipment is falling into the hands of the Taliban

With the Taliban having now bought out Afghanistan, there are growing concerns about how precisely it might utilize the data from the huge biometrics programme that has been left behind. An comprehensive database of people in Afghanistan was developed during the previous regime, but the quick transition has meant a lot of it remains intact.

THE UNITED STATES first established a programme to acquire the fingerprints, iris scans and facial images of Afghan national security forces after testing prototypes of the machine in 2002. The programme’s initial goal was to keep criminals and Taliban insurgents from infiltrating the army and police. To acquire and store this data, the united states Department of Defense launched its Automated Biometric Identification System (ABIS) in 2004.

Through the years, the biometrics initiative has already established both coalition and Afghan troops from multiple biometric task forces collecting fingerprint, iris and genetic biometric data from as a lot of the population as possible, now in the millions. In 2020, the Afghan government launched a biometric system for licensing businesses as a way to increase the ease and efficiency with which licences are processed. In January, The Afghan government shared its plans to conduct biometric registration of students and staff at 5000 madrassas around the country.


Read more: Afghan persons face an impossible choice over their digital footprint

A few of this biometric equipment is now in the hands of the Taliban, one senior Afghan government official, who worked closely with the biometric gathering for four years, told New Scientist. The gear includes some specifically made portable toolkits consisting of a laptop, camera, fingerprint scanner and an iris reader.

“Just think, they now have from the authorities, defence ministry and election commission,” said the state, who wanted to remain anonymous. They also have seized equipment from facilities employed by the National Directorate of Security, Afghanistan’s intelligence and security agency, he says. “It had been left out in the rush to exit. They have everything.” A US military official confirmed that biometric devices have already been seized by the Taliban, but just how many isn’t known.

“We understand that the Taliban is now likely to get access to various biometric databases and equipment in Afghanistan,” wrote US-based Human Rights First this week. “This technology will probably include usage of a database with fingerprints and iris scans, you need to include facial recognition technology.”

Fear of reprisals

The worry is that the Taliban should be able to utilize the biometric equipment and data to handle reprisals against persons who worked in the coalition-backed regime. A former interpreter who caused US forces in Bagram Air Base, who also had his biometrics taken, says the Taliban is listening in on calls and conducting door-to-door searches for individuals who worked alongside the united states in the town of Kandahar. “We just don’t really know what they have on us.”

Sean McDonald, who spent some time working in humanitarian data governance for days gone by 10 years, says: “The Taliban have a demonstrated interest in hunting, killing and scaring anyone who has worked with the federal government and global community.”

Annie Jacobsen, writer of First Platoon: A TALE of modern war in age identity dominance , says that the united states has spent a lot more than $8 billion on biometrics programmes in Iraq and Afghanistan and these have didn’t produce anything near an effective outcome in the wars. However, she says that even though many biometric tools have fallen into the hands of the Taliban, it doesn’t yet have the gear to process or utilize the data.

One officer who has been involved in intelligence gathering in Afghanistan and in addition wanted to remain anonymous says that the safety of Afghan people is paramount. Data collected by the united states could possibly be used to get many of them out from the country, he says, as biometric data was widely collected and used in identification cards for people who helped the united states.

Though this may have happened sooner, he says. “THE UNITED STATES has ample data to have determined long ago who had worked for them and could have prepared for evacuations sooner in my opinion and morally must have.”

The US Department of Defense didn’t respond to a request for comment.

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