A New York Times op-ed makes the case for using better biometrics in Iraq:
The war in Iraq would be over in a week if the insurgents wore uniforms. Instead, they hide in plain sight, and Iraqi and American soldiers have no means of checking the true identity and history of anyone they stop.
This is inexcusable. In Vietnam, the mobility of the Vietcong guerrilla forces was eventually crippled by a laborious hamlet-level census completed by hand in 1968. Biometric tracking and databases have since made extraordinary advances, yet our vaunted technical experts have failed at this elementary task in Iraq.
Any time a car is stopped in the United States, the police run an immediate check. The New York Police Department tracks criminal trends by neighborhood and block in a real time database called Compstat. The Chicago police have handheld devices that send fingerprints over the airwaves and get a response in minutes. So do our border police. But in Iraq, for four years our units have been forced to concoct their own identification databases using laptops, spreadsheets and poster boards. At any one time, the military is conducting dozens of separate census operations. Houses are labeled by one unit and relabeled by the next.
Meanwhile, it is common for an Iraqi civilian to carry two or three IDs with different names. The result: Last year 400,000 coalition and Iraqi troops made fewer than 40,000 arrests; in contrast, 22,000 New York City patrolmen made more than 500,000 spot checks and 313,000 arrests.
One of us (Owen) experienced this confusion firsthand. With his unit struggling to keep track of the insurgents in their area, it found a nonprofit company called Spirit of America that designed and sent over a handheld device, built from scratch in 30 days, to take fingerprints and photographs.
Secretary Gates and General Lute should sever the bureaucratic chains that have crippled the military biometrics effort by calling on private companies to compete on designing handheld devices to be carried by troops, with results demanded within six weeks. The arrival of the equipment must be followed immediately by a biometric census — in which every house would be labeled, every occupant identified and most transients listed in a real-time database.
Prompting this rather insane response from James Joyner:
To make that possible, they propose an elaborate biometric tracking system that strikes me as impractical, not to mention antithetical to the freedom and democracy we’re theoretically trying to export to Iraq.
Yikes. Deviating from the most absolute standards of privacy is not "antithetical to freedom and democracy." Let the Iraqis consider their own version of ACLU-style privacy after the bombs stop going off.