Biometrics on the battlefield

Biometric databases in Iraq and Afghanistan are helping American troops root out insurgents. Has Minority Report reached the battlefield?

One of the most effective tools for the U.S. Army to fight insurgents in Iraq and Afghanistan is non-violent: biometrics.

Biometric databases in Iraq and Afghanistan are helping American troops root out insurgents, according to a brief Homeland Security Newswire report.

Soldiers are using devices that digitally capture iris scans, facial photographs and fingerprints to monitor the enemy -- men "of fighting age," particularly those previously detained -- and prevent them from traveling in hiding.

It's a simple process. Like any criminal database used in the U.S., once it's in place, it can be used at checkpoints and for government job applications to prevent unauthorized entry or simply catch those already on the lam.

According to the report:

Last April, 475 detainees from an Afghan prison made a daring escape by tunneling under the walls, but biometric scanners deployed at checkpoints across the country have led to the recapture of many. Within days, thirty-five escapees had been caught and returned to the prison after passing through checkpoints where their identities were discovered by biometric scanners.

The scheme is a bit like the 2002 film Minority Report, where citizens' eyes are scanned virtually everywhere -- in the elevator, on public transit, in the mall, etc.

Which begs the question: just how far will people go to evade biometric security measures? And what of privacy rights, both in peace and in war?

Most interestingly, the system is useful because a nation like Afghanistan has little in the way of official documentation for identity. Instead of relying on a faulty system, U.S. troops simply implement their own using modern technology.

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