“We used to go to villages in Afghanistan and register people’s names with biometric data systems,” says Peter Kiernan, a former U.S. Marine Corps officer.
“The device, which was 12 inches long and six inches thick, used to take people’s fingerprints and scan the retina in their eyes. The device also took photos of them,” he said.
Peter has been on the run for the past few days. When he was in Afghanistan, 12 local interpreters worked for him.
These interpreters helped them to communicate with the locals. When we spoke to Peter for this news, he said that many of his colleagues are still stranded in Afghanistan. Peter is trying to get those people out of there.
People working with US security forces need to get out of Afghanistan as soon as possible. According to him, the Taliban is looking for people who have helped or worked for NATO and US forces.
Many feel that the biometric data collected by the US military and the Afghan government could now be dangerous for such people. They fear the Taliban will now retaliate.
Brian Dooley, a consultant for Human Rights First, told that there was no concrete information but that “there is speculation that a large stockpile of biometric data may or may not have fallen into the hands of the Taliban.”
Using a device called Handheld Intelligence Identity Detection Equipment, soldiers like Peter filled in data of Afghan citizens into American biometric stores.
He said the system was designed to identify the bomb makers, but also to identify contractors and locals working with the US military.
The army’s ambitious plan
The military initially planned to include about 80 percent of Afghanistan’s population in the system, but in reality very few people were able to store data.
The news website The Intercept on Tuesday quoted military sources as saying that some equipment had fallen into the hands of the Taliban. Reuters quoted a man in Kabul as saying that the Taliban were using “biometric machines” to search homes.
An Afghan official told NewsScientist that the biometric system in Afghanistan is now in the hands of the Taliban.
Peter, who is a member of the American think tank The Truman National Security Project, says the Taliban may have access to allied data. It is unknown at this time what he will do after leaving the post.
Journalist Anne Jacobson, who conducts research on military biometrics, says that even if the Taliban got the machines, they would not be able to obtain large amounts of data.
“A large number of colleagues in Afghanistan have never been given data before, with the idea that no corrupt official should take money and release the data,” she said.
This data is not stored in Afghanistan but in Petangon’s automatic biometrics identification system. This system is so complex that it is called a ‘system of systems’.
She says it would actually be easier for the Taliban to get information on social media.
Data related to citizens
Of course, the government of Afghanistan also collected biometrics data for us.
Afghanistan’s National Statistics and Broadcasting Department (NSIA) has processed more than six million applications for its e-Tazkira biometric identity card. It includes fingerprints, eye scans and photos of people.
Other biometrics, including facial recognition, were used for voter registration during the 2019 elections.
Apart from this, a register for traders was launched in the country. The plan was to collect biometric data of students studying in madrassas.
In 2016, an Afghan broadcaster reported that the Taliban had used a biometric reader to identify which of the passengers on a bus were soldiers. Twelve people were killed in the attack.