NZ Defence Force under pressure over biometric gathering
12 February 2018 08:18 GMT

The NZ Defence Force continues to face pressure from campaigners over biometric data gathering it conducted during Middle East and Central Asian conflicts in the mid 2000s.

A New Zealander kidnapped in Iraq in 2005 and held for four months, has released a draft report into the NZ Defence Force's activities in the war-torn Middle East country that was published by Stuff on Monday.

Human rights campaigner Harmeet Sooden says in it that the New Zealand public has been misled.

He writes that New Zealand soldiers were collecting biometric information from Iraqi soldiers at Camp Taji. Biometrics information could include the fingerprint data, eye scans or DNA collection.

Sooden says the NZ government cannot guarantee how the information could be used, and is concerned ethnic data could be used against people in sectarian conflict.

"The military use of biometrics in Iraq has historically had adverse human rights impacts. The biometric information collected by the NZDF is also potentially accessible to United States' intelligence agencies."

Mark Mitchell, who was Defence Minister under the previous National Government, said in a statement to Stuff there was no change to New Zealand's mandate in Iraq beyond troop training carried out behind fencing at military camps.

In August last year, critics alleged that New Zealand troops help the US conduct a biometrics gathering programme in Afghanistan without government approval.

Activists say that New Zealanders "had a right to know what our troops were actually doing in our name in Afghanistan".

A former top intelligence official in Kabul told the the Stuff Circuit documentary series that New Zealand PRT soldiers were using a device called "Seek", and that the data was uploaded to ISAF, the International Security Assistance Force, which New Zealand forces in Afghanistan operated under, but then shared with the CIA.

Former Minister of Defence, Wayne Mapp, said he did not know about the programme.

Elliott said the biometrics revelations raised questions about what the public had been told.

However, former Chief of Defence, Retired Lieutenant General Rhys Jones justified the biometric data collection as being integral for identifying known or suspected insurgents.