For sale on eBay: a military fingerprint and iris database
“It shouldn’t have happened,” Mr Baker said. “This is a disaster for the people whose data is exposed. In the worst case, the consequences could be fatal.
What we consider before using anonymous sources. Do the sources know the information? What is their motivation for telling us? Have they proven themselves in the past? Can we corroborate the information? Even with those questions answered, the Times uses anonymous sources as a last resort. The journalist and at least one editor know the identity of the source.
Of the six devices the researchers purchased on eBay — four SEEKs and two HIIDEs, for Handheld Interagency Identity Detection Equipment — two of the SEEK II devices contained sensitive data. The second SEEK II, with location metadata indicating it was last used in Jordan in 2013, appeared to contain the fingerprints and iris scans of a small group of US military personnel.
When contacted by The Times, an American whose biometric scan was found on the device confirmed that the data was likely his. He was previously a maritime intelligence specialist and said his data, and that of any other Americans found on those devices, was most likely collected during a military training course. The man, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he still works in intelligence and was not authorized to speak publicly, asked that his biometric record be deleted.
Military officials said the only reason these devices would have data on Americans would be for use during training sessions, a common practice to prepare for field employment.
According to the Defense Logistics Agency, which manages the disposal of millions of dollars of surplus Pentagon hardware each year, devices like the SEEK II and HIIDE should never have made it to the open market – much less to a facility. online auctions like eBay. Instead, all biometric collection equipment is supposed to be destroyed in place when no longer needed by military personnel, as are other electronic devices that once contained sensitive operational information.
How eBay sellers obtained these devices is unclear. The device with the 2,632 profiles was sold by Rhino Trade, a surplus equipment company in Texas. Company treasurer David Mendez said he bought the SEEK II at a government equipment auction and didn’t realize a decommissioned military device would contain sensitive data.
“I hope we haven’t done anything wrong,” he said.
The SEEK II containing the US troop information came from Tech-Mart, an Ohio eBay seller. Tech-Mart owner Ayman Arafa declined to say how he acquired it, or two other devices he sold to researchers.