Last month, Wired reported that the U.S. army was scanning inmates’ irises in its Parwan, Afghanistan, detention facility. Now, Wired reports that eye-scanning inmates was just one part of a bigger plan to hinder militant movement in Afghanistan. “In Afghanistan, local and NATO forces are amassing biometric dossiers on hundreds of thousands of cops, crooks, soldiers, insurgents and ordinary citizens. And now, with NATO’s backing, the Kabul government is putting together a plan to issue biometrically backed identification cards to 1.65 million Afghans by next May.”
There are all kinds of hurdles to the plan, however. At the moment, Afghanistan’s two main biometric databases don’t talk to one another, limiting their effectiveness. The Karzai government has blocked previous efforts to extend the biometric dragnet. And in a country where the rule of law is more of a suggestion, there’s a risk that a storehouse of irises and fingerprints and faces could one day be abused.
Right now, there are two primary biometric projects underway in Afghanistan. One is run by NATO forces, and uses the fingerprint readers, iris scanners and digital cameras of the Biometric Automated Toolset (.ppt) to capture information on detainees and other “persons of interest.” The U.S. military says it has assembled 410,000 of these biometric dossiers in the past year-and-a-half.
The second project, the Afghan Automated Biometric Identification System (AABIS), run by the Afghan government, collects data on Afghan National Army and police recruits. Fingerprints, irises and faces are all scanned into Crossmatch Jump Kits. The kits are periodically brought back to Kabul, where the data is dumped into the AABIS mainframe — and cross-checked with biometric records from the Afghan National Detention Facility, Kabul Central Police Command, Counternarcotics Police of Afghanistan and FBI prison enrollments from Kabul, Herat and Kandahar.