Cyber Security and Emerging Threats Technology

The Importance of Biometric Data Sharing in Counter-Terrorism Capability Development

Terrorism has been a constant threat to international peace and security, and the world order that emerged after the Cold War. In 1999, NATO recognized terrorism as a threat to international security, and since then, it has implemented a series of measures and developed programs that target terrorist activity. NATO’s strategy focuses on spreading awareness, capacity building and engagement, and seeks to meet “three core tasks: collective defence, crisis management and cooperative security.” Capability development is largely based on the Defence Against Terrorism Programme of Work (DAT POW), which was introduced in 2004 and incorporates a number of innovative technologies, including biometrics. The persistence of terrorism and foreign terrorist fighters as a threat to the international community was also emphasized in the 2017 United Nations Security Council Resolution 2396, which pressed UN members to “expeditiously exchange information, through bilateral or multilateral mechanisms…concerning the identity of foreign terrorist fighters.” NATO is already one step ahead through its use of the NATO Automated Biometrics Identification System (NABIS) that relies on the collection and sharing of biometric data between Alliance members and partners. Biometrics take into consideration specific data on behaviour, appearance, and other personal characteristics that are unique to an individual and play a crucial role in counter-threat operations to identify suspects. The incorporation of the NABIS facilitates international cooperation by sharing biometric data and information between countries.

NABIS relies on “ping and ring,” a model that enables data sharing among NATO member-states while simultaneously ensuring the protection of their sources. In brief, this system operates as follows: when a member-state does not have enough biometric data regarding an individual, they can “ping” the system, requesting the help of other countries. In return, another member-state that possesses this data can “ring” and share the information through NABIS. Moreover, through the collection of fingerprints, and face and iris data, NABIS combines different pieces of biometric data together, making it easier to identify an individual and signal if a person is on a biometric-enabled watch list (BEWL). Biometric data provides the opportunity to identify an individual with scientific accuracy, in a short period of time. Through the ability to share biometric information, NABIS not only provides an advantage when trying to prevent terrorist threats by tracking and identifying individuals who pose potential threats to security, but also grants operational and strategic support to contemporary NATO operations.

Last September, the NATO Communications and Information (NCI) Agency, funded by NATO’s Emerging Security Challenges Division, hosted Northern Spirit 20 and a two-day workshop on biometrics, both of which put NABIS in action. The former was a simulation of sea and land NATO operations that focused on sharing biometrics and identity information practicing the “ping and ring” system. The latter provided a platform for consultation on biometrics and NATO’s criteria for information-sharing, bringing together representatives from six of the Alliance’s member-states, along with partner organizations such as the European Union Agency for Law Enforcement Cooperation (Europol), International Criminal Police Organization (INTERPOL) and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). Moreover, NATO provided the Kosovo Force (KFOR) – its international peacekeeping force in Kosovo – with a NABIS prototype in 2020. However, information regarding the testing has yet to become available.

NABIS’ “ping and ring” facilitates cooperation and coordination among member-states as well as international organizations to protect the world from the ever-growing threat of terrorism and to increase strategic competency in NATO operations. It is integral to promoting the Alliance’s purpose of maintaining international peace and security. While some argue that sharing biometric data among governments and organizations could have a negative outcome on human rights or privacy, the advantages of NABIS far outweigh these concerns and ensure effective tracking and identification of threats to international security in an ever-connected world.

Face Detection Scan, by Geralt via Pixabay. Public Domain.

Disclaimer: Any views or opinions expressed in articles are solely those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the views of the NATO Association of Canada.

Tea Vasha
Tea Vasha is a Junior Research Fellow at the NATO Association of Canada. Graduating with a double major in International Relations and Criminology and a minor in Political Science from the University of Toronto, she will return in September to pursue the Master of Public Policy at the Munk School of Global Affairs and Public Policy. Her research interests include international affairs, migration, and global security. Tea has also been a part of the Canadian Centre for the Responsibility to Protect (CCR2P) in the R2P & Canadian foreign policy division and the G7 Research Group