December
10
 

WikiLeaks shows US chasing foreign leaders’ DNA

biometric As improbable as it sounds, there is a bioethics angle to the WikiLeaks saga. The website has published tens of thousands of sensitive diplomatic cables that reveal US diplomats were instructed to collect biometric identification on foreign diplomats. A missive from the office of the Secretary of State in April 2009 ordered that diplomats in Africa increase their assistance to US intelligence. So in addition to the routine diplomatic function of collecting basic biographical information on the people they speak to, the US government ordered that they also collect “fingerprints, facial images, DNA, and iris scans.”

Clear directions on how diplomats should go about collecting the unique identifiers of “key civilian and military officials,” were not listed. In recent years, the US military in Afghanistan and Iraq has constructed storehouses of biometric data to identify insurgents, using small, portable eye and thumb scanners. However, this State Department foray into bio-information collection has not been disclosed previously.

The July 2009 memo also targeted UN representatives of countries including “China, Cuba, Egypt, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Pakistan, South Africa, Sudan, Uganda, Senegal, and Syria” for information collection, as well as “ranking North Korean diplomats.” The rationale, as stated, is to get information from “regional groups, blocs, or coalitions on issues before the General Assembly,” but it is not clear how a diplomat’s fingerprint reveals any information about voting preferences. Some cables also instructed US diplomats to collect information on how other countries use biometrics to keep watch on local extremists. ~ Wired, Nov 29; Guardian, Nov 28

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