Iraq’s Biometric Database Could Become “Hit List”: Army
The U.S. is building on Saddam’s databases to assemble biometric files and national ID cards for hundreds of thousands of Iraqis. American military officials say it’s a crucial step towards getting a handle on who the bad guys are in Iraq. But groups like the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) spooked — in a sectarian civil war, they argue, a biometric identification can suddenly become a death warrant.
Today, in a blogger’s conference call, Lieutenant Colonel
John Velliquette, the biometrics manager in Iraq for the “Coalition Police Assistance Training Team,” said he was worried, too.
“This database… becomes is a hit list if it gets in the wrong hands,” Lt. Col. Velliquette tells DANGER ROOM.
EPIC wrote to Defense Secretary Robert Gates earlier this summer that:
We recognize the strategic military importance of identifying threats to American
military personnel. However… the biometric identification of Sunni, Shiite, and Kurd populations vastly increases the possibility that this information may be misused at some future point.
Because names are associated with religious identity, many Iraqis change their names or
carry fake IDs to avoid being murdered by rival sects. Numerous reports indicate that Iraqis
regularly risk death if they are proven to be of a different sect than gunmen at a checkpoint. In July 2006, Shiite militiamen established a fake checkpoint and killed up to 50 Sunnis after examining their identification documents…
In Rwanda… official identification cards contained ethnic information. The classification system was a remnant from the Belgian colonial government, and was extensively used to identify victims to be killed. To have the word “Tutsi” on an identification card was a death sentence.
So I asked Lt. Col. Velliquette about these concerns.
Q Hey, Colonel, thanks for doing this. It’s Noah Shachtman with Wired magazine.
A couple questions, or couple-part questions. Besides the picture and the iris and the fingerprints, what other information is tied to this biometric? That’s part one.
LT. COL. VELLIQUETTE: Well, when you take the person’s biometrics, you have them bring in their jensea (ph) card, which is the
Iraqi national identification card. It’s not really an advanced card, but it’s the information from which they start. Essentially what we’re doing is we’re assigning fingerprints of this person’s identity, his name on the jensea (ph) card. So all that information off the jensea card (ph) — his name, all the travel names, father’s name, mother’s name — is all entered into the database. And the database is, I must add, is both in English and Arabic. And it takes his address, other personal biographical information, his height, weight, hair color —
Q Date of birth, religion, that kind of stuff?
LT. COL. VELLIQUETTE: Exactly. Well, no, I’m not so sure about the religion part.
Q But certainly the tribal — I mean the tribal information maps to the religion, right?
LT. COL. VELLIQUETTE: It could. It could. You know, the MOI is taking great pains not to make a big deal as far as what religion they are, whether it’s Sunni or Shi’ite. They’re very conscious about that.
So to my knowledge, they don’t — that information’s not put on a database. This database, I must add, is also very sensitive, because essentially what it becomes is a hit list if it gets in the wrong hands. You know, some sectors are entirely Sunni, some are entirely
Shi’ite, so we make take great pains to make sure this database stays in the proper hands.
I also asked Lt. Col. Velliquette about Bing West’s allegations, that “a few enterprising American rifle companies have conducted their own independent censuses, employing rudimentary spreadsheets and personal digital cameras. But no central information system exists.”
Not exactly, Lt. Col. Velliquette countered.
Q …[M]y understanding was that in addition to the efforts that you’re performing, also a number of local commanders are… ollecting biometrics in their own AOs. Is there any attempt to bring that sort of piecemeal biometric together? And, you know, does the commander in the field have access to your… central database?
LT. COL. VELLIQUETTE: Yes. The three — the other two systems that you’re talking about in country are the Biometric Automated Tool Set [BAT], which is a coalition force protection system. It has a secret component, on the high side, and also there’s the Biometric Identification System for Access, which is used for base access.
For instance, to get into the International Zone, you would have to go through that system.
All three systems are actually tied together through the Biometrics Fusion Center in West Virginia. And the BAT system is used out in the field by local commanders for force protection issues mainly. A local commander out in the field will not have access to the Iraqi database generally, just because there are no current systems set up in place to do that…
Q [So] if I have a BAT system in Fallujah and I have somebody entered into my system and that person moves to Baghdad, you know, there’s no way to track that person from Fallujah to Baghdad. Or there’s no — the system in Baghdad won’t also have that information.
LT. COL. VELLIQUETTE: Are you talking about Iraqi AFIS?
Q [So if] a commander in the field takes a fingerprint of a insurgent suspect in Fallujah. Let’s say that guy shows up again in Baghdad. Will there be any biometric information about that person?
LT. COL. VELLIQUETTE: Well, if he collected biometric information from that person in Fallujah, then it’s in the system at the Biometrics Fusion Center in West Virginia. So if he’s detained for whatever reason in Baghdad, and hopefully if he’s a insurgent suspect, hopefully he’s not still loose.
LT. COL. VELLIQUETTE: But if he’s contacted again in Baghdad then yes, it is possible to find out if he’s in the system.
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