For sale on eBay: A military database of fingerprints and iris scans

For sale on eBay: A military database of fingerprints and iris scans

For sale on eBay: A military database of fingerprints and iris scans

“That shouldn’t have happened,” Mr Baker said. “It is a disaster for those whose data is exposed. In the worst cases, the consequences can be fatal.”

What do we consider before using anonymous sources? Do sources know? What is his motivation for telling us? Have they proven reliable in the past? Can we verify the information? Even when these questions are satisfied, The Times uses anonymous sources as a last resort. The reporter and at least one editor know the identity of the source.

Of the six devices purchased on eBay — four 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, location metadata showing it was last used in Jordan in 2013, included fingerprints and iris scans of a small group of US service members.

Contacted by The Times, an American whose biometric scan was found on the device confirmed that the data was probably his. He previously served as a Marine intelligence specialist and said that his data, and that of any other American found on these devices, was the most 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 for his biometric file to be removed.

Military officials said the only reason these devices would have data on Americans would be for their use during training sessions, a common practice to prepare them for employment in the field.

According to the Defense Logistics Agency, which handles the disposal of millions of dollars of excess Pentagon material each year, devices like the SEEK II and HIIDE should never have been put on the open market—much less an online auction site like eBay. Instead, all biometric collection gear must be destroyed on-site when it is no longer needed by military personnel, as are other electronic devices that once held sensitive operational information.

How the eBay sellers obtained these devices is unclear. The 2,632 profiled device was sold by Rhino Trade, a surplus equipment company in Texas. The company’s treasurer, David Mendez, said that he had purchased the SEEK II at a government equipment auction and did not realize that the decommissioned military equipment would contain sensitive data.

“I hope we haven’t done anything wrong,” he said.

The SEEK II with information on US troops came from Tech-Mart, an eBay seller in Ohio. Tech-Mart owner Ayman Arafa declined to explain how he acquired it, or two other devices he sold to the researchers.

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