US soldiers and spies will soon be able to scan people’s eyes, faces, thumbs and voices, remotely, using common commercially available smartphones – a boon for both the battlefield and the world. government espionage.
The biometrics company AOptix announced Wednesday that the Pentagon awarded it, along with CACI International Inc, a $3 million research contract to develop AOptix’s Smart Mobile Identity devices for the US Department of Defense.
Like Wired reportedthe end result after two years of planned development will be a hardware device and software suite that will transform an ordinary smartphone into a device that scans and transmits data at distances not possible with current scanning technology.
AOptix’s hardware is a peripheral that wraps around a smartphone, enhancing the phone’s detection capabilities so that it can record biometric data.
Unlike the device currently used to scan, upload and transmit biometric data to US military databases during wartime – the Handheld Interagency Identity Detection System (HIIDE) – the AOptix device can be used on its own and will as easy to use as a user. user-friendly smartphone app.
According to Wired, this new gadget will be able to scan faces from up to two meters away, irises from one meter, and voice from a typical phone distance. Fingerprints will still need to be scanned against the glass of the phone.
AOptix director Joey Pritikin told Wired that the system would be able to capture an iris in direct sunlight, which is a challenge for current biometric devices.
It will also be able to take photos of a face or eye as soon as the phone focuses, without the user needing to click, swipe or tap.
It’s easy to see the benefits of biometrics for troops. Since the war in Iraq, fingerprint and iris scanners were used to hire and retain labor, protect military bases, and monitor detainees in detention centers.
For surveillance, biometrics has been more of a mixed bag.
As things stand, the use of biometrics at borders already threatens the safety of undercover spies (and terrorists, or anyone traveling under an assumed identity for whatever reason).
Wired reported in April that before 9/11, secret CIA agents could use and discard fake passports “like hand wipes”, retrieving new fraudulent passports from local CIA stations.
Biometrics and related databases make that impossible, Wired reports, citing an ex-ghost who says that simply crossing the border with a real identity and then picking up a fake one in the country to conduct covert operations presents risks:
"When you go to check into a hotel room for a meeting with an asset, or even rent a car to get to the meeting - or hold the meeting in the car - many hotels and car rental companies upload their customer data, including passport number, at immigration every day... Most countries look for visa overstays. But when you show up on the list as having never entered the country... it makes the police ask questions."
Wired notes that, especially in “hostile” places like Iran, where Interior Ministry computers are presumably hardwired into airline passenger lists and hotel guest lists, the use of fake passports and travel data is a dangerous bet.
Of course, “hostile” is a relative term. Many view the current state of surveillance in the United States, for example, as intrusive at best and disregarding civil liberties at worst.
It is understandable that government intelligence groups such as the CIA or MI6 are concerned about the safety of their undercover agents.
AOptix has not identified which specific branches of the US military or intelligence are gearing up to use the new biometric scanners.
But as normal Jane Doe citizens, especially in these days of post-9/11 surveillance, it’s kind of scary to imagine ever-easier biometric scanning at the hands of teams like, say, the National United States Security Agency, which already has an insatiable thirst for data.
Witness the Utah data center, the vast facility that The NSA builds to intercept, decipher, analyze and store just about everything we do and say, whether our communications are drawn from the undersea cables of international, foreign and domestic networks or plucked from the sky as relayed by satellite.
Do we really want US intelligence to be able to identify us via biometrics, remotely, and block our movements in their mind-boggling data warehouses?
We have no choice in this matter, between the creation of hummingbird drones and upcoming handheld scanners.
Let’s just hope other countries don’t follow Canada’s lead and ban masks at protests.
Face scan Image from Shutterstock. Image of a man scanning another man’s face from AOptix.