Biometrics and Spying

Alfresco in Her Eyes II

I’ve written before about how much I like IRIS and how fast it is.  Sure, I had to let them scan my irises, but it doesn’t really matter.  However, I’ve never given much thought to how it may impact spies.  Until I saw this Wired article on the CIA and its secret fear.

In “the old days,” as one put it — that would be before 9/11 — deep-cover CIA operatives could use and discard false passports like hand wipes. “The only way immigration could tell if the passports were fake was to look at the stamps, paper, photo, and so on,” said another recently retired CIA operative, whose worked on sensitive projects under non-official cover. Operatives could land at, say, Dubai, with a passport with one false name, then pick up another from the local CIA station to register at the hotel and conduct a mission. Then the same operative could return the country several times under different names, repeating the process.

Biometrics are making that impossible. Even crossing the border with a real identity, then donning a fake one in-country, presents its own risks. “When you go to check into a hotel room for a meeting with an asset, or even rent a car to drive to the meeting — or hold the meeting in the car — many hotels and car rental agencies upload their customer data, including passport number, to immigration every day,” the former spook notes. “Most countries are looking for visa overstays. But when you show up on the list as never having entered the country … it brings the police around to ask questions.”

I’m surprised they can’t fake the data stored on the passport.

Image from pink sherbet photography via flickr

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