Transfer of US biometric database to Iraq raises concerns

Over the past seven years, US soldiers in Iraq have used sweeping wartime powers to collect fingerprints, iris scans, and even DNA from ordinary people and suspected insurgents, an effort that has helped the Pentagon amass one of the world’s most comprehensive databases of biometric information collected during a war. Nearly 7 percent of Iraq’s 29 million people are cataloged — their names, facial scans, and often other details about them, such as whether they were considered a friend or foe. As the war draws down, however, the collection of so much personal information has raised questions about how data gathered during wartime should be used during times of peace, and with whom that information should be shared. Some Iraqis fear that the transfer of data to their government could create a “hit list’’ of Iraqis who worked with the US military or a tool for settling ethnic or sectarian scores.

According to Lt. Col Velliquette, the Iraqi system has approximately  750,000 records in its database. Earlier, EPIC, Privacy International,  and Human Rights Watch wrote to the US Secretary Defense to warn that the system will lead to reprisals and further killings. For more information, see Transcript of “The Role of Biometric in Counterinsurgency,’ blogs at Harpers and Wired.

The collection in Iraq is part of a global attempt to find and track terrorist suspects. Stephen Morris, deputy assistant director of the FBI’s Criminal Justice Information Services Division, said the bureau helps dozens of countries collect biometric information, usually in exchange for access to data. The FBI has agents stationed in Jordan, Italy, Mexico, Germany, and elsewhere to organize “fingerprint exchanges’’ of thousands of terrorist suspects.

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