Is the collection of biometric data from Afghans ethical?

I just finished reading The Eyes Have it, in the 7Jul – 13Jul issue of The Economist. Afghan soldiers are collecting retina scans of “suspicious” individuals. But they don’t stop there. They’re stopping buses arbitrarily and scanning all men, they’re even scanning entire villages! This information goes to a database that can then be shared internationally. It can be used to track suspicious movements and to scan the bodies in a suicide bombing to find database matches. The article says that “American officers praise the technology as a helpful counter-insurgency tool.”

Do I think potential terrorists need to be identified and stopped? Of course. Do I think retina scans of an entire population is going a bit far? Probably. But Afghanistan isn’t my country, the situation is different, the culture is different. I can accept that. 

But it made me think…in this week’s The Week, I read that the Taliban is causing difficulties for the Polio vaccine program in the Pakistani-Afghan border regions. I don’t blame them! After the CIA used a Pakistani vaccination drive to collect genetic data in the search for Osama bin Laden, and with biometric data being collected arbitrarily from the Afghan public, who could blame the Taliban for suspecting that the Polio vaccine is yet another ploy of the Americans to spy? It is a shame, since this region is one of the few in the world that still has an active Polio problem. Subterfuge and lack of privacy leads to distrust–Sad, but true. 

2 thoughts on “Is the collection of biometric data from Afghans ethical?

  1. The sad thing is that people embrace these technologies here in the US. The backscatter x-ray machines at the airports are a prime example of the wow factor over-riding the obvious violation of the 4th amendment. Getting on a plane is not grounds for a strip search (virtual or otherwise).


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