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Press Release | Oct. 15, 2010

Conference maps the way ahead for biometrics in Afghanistan

By Sr. Airman William O'Brien , Combined Joint Interagency Task Force 435

KABUL, Afghanistan (Oct. 15, 2010) —Afghan, U.S. military, coalition military and civilian partners discussed the way ahead for the Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan to assume full control and ownership of biometrics at a conference at Combined Joint Interagency Task Force 435 headquarters Oct. 14.

“With this conference, we were simply trying to gather all of the key agencies, organizations, and personalities together to discuss the biometrics efforts currently underway in Afghanistan. We wanted to share our lessons learned and challenges with each other, especially with our Afghan partners, to ensure we leverage the available technology in the most effective way possible to enable the Government of Afghanistan’s efforts,” said U.S. Army Col. Craig Osborne, Task Force Biometrics commander.

Biometrics supports a national identity by facilitating border control for Afghanistan as a sovereign nation through the identification of its citizens and lawful visitors.

“The goal of the Ministry of Interior Biometrics Center is a secure Afghanistan,” said Afghan National Army Lt. Col. Mohammad Anwar Moniri, Ministry of Interior director of biometrics.

In the future, biometrics data can aid in development of the electronic tazkera, a means of national identification for Afghan citizens. One representative from the Ministry of Communication and Information Technology called the electronic tazkera a platform of personal identification that could eventually be used for voter and vehicle registration, plus banking.

“It is important to note that the use of biometrics is not limited to simply identifying terrorists and criminals – it can be used to enable progress in society and has countless applications for the provision of services to the citizens of Afghanistan,” said Osborne. “It’s not just about finding people who have done illegal actions, but it is also proves who are law-abiding citizens.”

Osborne said there are three end states the Afghans are working on with their U.S. partners.

“We want to help our Afghan partners understand who its citizens are.  There has not been a national census in Afghanistan since 1978, so identification of its lawful citizens is problematic,” Osborne said. “Clearly knowing who its citizens are will enable the Afghan government, in the future, to provide services to its people in a precise and effective manner.”

 Osborne said the second end state will help Afghanistan control its borders.

 “There is clearly a security component associated with biometrics and will enable the Afghan government to secure its borders more effectively.  Many nefarious individuals who seek to harm the government of Afghanistan as well as ISAF and coalition forces transit the borders each day,” he said.  “If a biometric capability exists at its borders, the Afghan government will be more equipped to ensure that only lawful entrants gain access to Afghanistan through the border check points.

 The third end state will allow GIRoA to have “identity dominance,” Osborne said.

 “Biometrics allows Afghan and ISAF forces to precisely target terrorists and insurgents that are operating in Afghanistan.  The technology allows us to gather fingerprints and DNA, for example, from things such as documents or unexploded IEDs and match identities to negative events.  For example, if an unexploded IED is found along a road, we are able to develop latent fingerprints from that device and then compare them to known identities in our database to determine who had touched the IED.  The Afghan government, through its Ministry of the Interior, has developed a database and forensic capability that allows for such actions – Afghans are capable of doing these matches without ISAF or coalition assistance.

 Currently, Afghans are enrolling Afghans who work for the Afghan government and those recruited for the Afghan National Army and Afghan National Police.

 Soon, the Afghan 1,000 enrollment program will begin.  The Afghan-led program, with an Afghan contractor hiring Afghan enrollers and system administrators, will collect biometric data at key border locations and in concert with the Afghan Population Registration Department offices across Afghanistan.  Biometric enrollment is entirely voluntary on the part of law-abiding Afghan citizens, but Afghans have shown a true desire to be enrolled in the system.

“The Afghan 1,000 program will allow Afghans to be enrolled by Afghans, using Afghan equipment, for entry into an Afghan database.  It will enable the government of Afghanistan to more clearly identify who its citizens are,” said Osborne.

Collecting biometrics includes 10 fingerprints, two iris scans and a facial image. Transferring it securely and storing it the Afghan-Automated Biometric Identification System will separate law-abiding Afghans from insurgents and criminals. Identification information in the database can be matched against latent evidence, including fingerprints gleaned from crime scenes.

“Biometrics is both characteristics of an individual as well as a process,” said Osborne. “As a characteristic, each individual has certain modalities – such as fingerprints, irises, speech patterns - that define him or her as a specific individual. Your iris design belongs only to you and your left and right irises are different.  A name can be changed or altered illegally or even legally, but once your iris is formed at the age of six months, it cannot be altered, duplicated or forged.  As a process, biometrics is the fusion of individual characteristics with forensic evidence and other forms of information.  When combined, you are able to match a person to an event.”

In the long term, the goal is for the Afghan government to maintain two databases, one maintained by MOI for security and criminal investigative activities and one housed by MCIT to support civic and economic use of identification like voting, civil services and business transactions.