Here’s some fun irony: The same biometric tracking technologies developed by the US government to track terrorists and would-be unauthorised immigrants is so effective it can also be used to out US spies in the field.
As Foreign Policy writes, iris and fingerprint scanners, not to mention more passive forms of biometric tracking like facial recognition, have all undermined the ability of the CIA and other clandestine intelligence operations to do their jobs. Which is pretty funny considering the feds developed the technology to do their jobs better.
A few weeks ago, we shared a report about a series of new biometric recognition programs US Customs and Border Patrol are testing at points of entry into the country. The idea is simple: use new advanced tracking technologies to help protect our borders by identifying individuals trying to fly under the radar.
The reason this technology works in any context is that the Department of Defence, Department of Homeland Security, and FBI have invested billions in developing it. Clandestine agencies have an insatiable thirst for data, and collect biometrics every chance they get. This quote from the Foreign Policy story neatly sums up the problem:
“All of the things that make it difficult to keep your identity from being disclosed also make it that much easier for us to discover others,” said Roger Mason, who served as assistant director of national intelligence for systems and resource analyses before joining Noblis, a nonprofit science and technology organisation.
The CIA and other government spook outfits aren’t clear about what’s to done. Last month, CIA Director John Brennan outlined his plan to deal with the numerous challenges the agency faces going forward, including “the unprecedented pace and impact of technological advancements.” There are calls to “embrace the digital revolution” an to “modernise the way we do business”. It’s a pretty vague plan, that sounds like it could just as easily come from the CEO of a struggling startup as from an intelligence tzar.