What will happen if a device with your photo, fingerprint and other biometric information ends up on an e-commerce website where anyone can buy them for $149.95? That is exactly what has happened now as a biometric collection device which was built by Pentagon in the early 2000s was successfully purchased by Matthias Marx, a German security researcher, from eBay.
The device purchased by Matthias Marx is named SEEK II (Secure Electronic Enrollment Kit), and it was last used in the summer of 2012 near Kandahar, Afghanistan. The device contains photos and biometric information of terrorists, wanted individuals, people who work with the US government in the country and even people who were stopped at checkpoints for regular checks.
The New York Times reports state that the memory cards on the device consists of names, nationalities, photographs, fingerprints and iris scans of 2,632 people.
These types of devices were built by the US Defense apparatus in the early days of biometric tracking, in order to keep a database of individuals who are of interest to security agencies. It is believed that the security agencies of the United States used such a biometric device in order to confirm the identity of terrorist Osama bin Laden after he was killed in Operation Neptune Spear.
There is no information available as to how this device with sensitive information reached an e-commerce website. If fallen into wrong hands, the information contained within such devices is enough to pose a grave threat to people who worked with the government of the United States in various countries and regions.
“Because we have not reviewed the information contained on the devices, the department is not able to confirm the authenticity of the alleged data or otherwise comment on it,” Brig. Gen. Patrick S. Ryder, the Defense Department’s press secretary, said in a statement. “The department requests that any devices thought to contain personally identifiable information be returned for further analysis.”
Over the past year, Mr.Marx and a small group of researchers at the Chaos Computer Club, a European hacker association, bought six biometric capture devices on eBay, most for less than 200 euros, planning to analyze them to find any vulnerabilities or design flaws.
Following the withdrawal of the US army from Afghanistan, various human rights agencies voiced their concerns as to what might happen if such sensitive individuals’ information ends up in hands of the new Taliban regime in the country. In earlier days of the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan, there have been various reports of targeted killings by the group.
According to Stewart Baker, a lawyer based in Washington, what has happened with the SEEK device is a disaster and even fatal for individuals who have their sensitive information stored on such devices. Stewart Baker is also a former national security official in the United States.
In usual cases, devices which contain such biometrics and other sensitive information regarding military operations are supposed to be destroyed after use.
“The irresponsible handling of this high-risk technology is unbelievable,” Mr Marx said. “It is incomprehensible to us that the manufacturer and former military users do not care that used devices with sensitive data are being hawked online.”