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For Sale on eBay: A Military Database of Fingerprints and Iris Scans


“This mustn’t have happened,” Mr. Baker said. “It’s a disaster for the people whose data is exposed. Within the worst cases, the results may very well be fatal.”

What we consider before using anonymous sources. Do the sources know the knowledge? What’s their motivation for telling us? Have they proved reliable up to now? Can we corroborate the knowledge? Even with these questions satisfied, The Times uses anonymous sources as a final resort. The reporter and at the least one editor know the identity of the source.

Of the six devices the researchers bought on eBay — 4 SEEKs and two HIIDEs, for Handheld Interagency Identity Detection Equipment — two of the SEEK II devices had sensitive data on them. The second SEEK II, with location metadata showing it was last utilized in Jordan in 2013, appeared to contain the fingerprints and iris scans of a small group of U.S. service members.

When reached by The Times, one American whose biometric scan was found on the device confirmed that the info was likely his. He previously served as a Marine intelligence specialist and said his data, and that of some other American found on these devices, was most definitely collected during a military training course. The person, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he still works within the intelligence field and was not authorized to talk publicly, asked that his biometric file be deleted.

Military officials said the one reason these devices would have data on Americans can be their use during training sessions, a standard practice to organize for employing them in the sector.

In line with the Defense Logistics Agency, which handles the disposal of hundreds of thousands of dollars of excess Pentagon matériel annually, devices just like the SEEK II and the HIIDE never must have made it to the open market — much less a web based auction site like eBay. As a substitute, all biometric collection gear is presupposed to be destroyed on site when now not needed by military personnel, as are other electronic devices that after held sensitive operational information.

How eBay sellers obtained these devices is unclear. The device with the two,632 profiles was sold by Rhino Trade, a surplus equipment company in Texas. The corporate’s treasurer, David Mendez, said it had bought the SEEK II at an auction of presidency equipment and didn’t realize a decommissioned military device would have sensitive data on it.

“I hope we didn’t do anything incorrect,” he said.

The SEEK II with the American troops’ information got here from Tech-Mart, an eBay seller in Ohio. Tech-Mart’s owner, Ayman Arafa, declined to say how he had acquired it, or two other devices he sold to the researchers.

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