ABU DHABI // The UAE is one of the world's leading countries for biometric information and data collection, security experts said yesterday.
Security, counter-terrorism and military experts speaking at a conference at the Emirates Centre for Strategic Studies and Research said the Government's approach in collecting biometric data and securing its interests was an example that should be followed by other nations.
"The UAE is at the forefront, in contrast to many countries around the world," said Dr Austin Long, a member of the Arnold A Saltzman Institute of War and Peace Studies and a professor at Columbia University, both in the United States.
During his lecture during the 18th annual Future of Warfare in the 21st Century conference, Dr Long said that, in the past 15 years, there has been a strong response from the West to asymmetrical warfare - where power or strategy between two opponents differs significantly - and international terrorism but that, in the Arabian Gulf, the UAE has responded particularly well.
The professor said biometric data collection by the Emirates Identity Authority (EIA) is key not only to national security but international security, too. The national ID card helps track suspects after an event takes place but is also useful for pre-empting threats, he said.
"A person has certain patterns but when one day he goes to different shops to buy certain materials, that can be dangerous if mixed with travel to a suspicious place, and this can all be tracked and help in preventing an attack," he added.
Riad Kahwaji, the chief executive of the Institute of Near East and Gulf Military Analysis, agreed.
"When you have such data and are able to share with agencies like Interpol, you would be able to prevent many attacks," he said.
The Emirates Identity programme was established by virtue of a federal decree in 2004.
The national ID card has the cardholder's name, nationality, gender and date of birth on it. The card also bears a unique 15-digit identification number, which is used for identity verification by the Government and private entities.
Inside the card is an electronic chip that contains personal and biometric data about the cardholder.
According to Mr Kahwaji, if more countries collected biometric data, incidents such as the January 2010 assassination of senior Hamas commander Mahmoud Al Mabhouh in Dubai could have been prevented.
"I spoke with an Interpol official who told me if countries collected the biometric data of their citizens and shared them it would have been impossible for such an action by Israel to take place," he said. Israel's intelligence agency, Mossad, is widely believed to have carried out the assassination.
Mr Kahwaji added that not all nations will share their data with the world but there are bilateral and multilateral agreements signed between different states to enhance security.
"The Emirates ID is a need; analysts like me have been calling for it for years now," he said.
Mr Kahwaji made the point that a country with more than 200 nationalities residing in it, like the UAE, and many more travelling through it, cannot secure its borders without introducing such measures.
According to Dr Long, the UAE contrasts the US and the UK when it comes to biometric data collection.
He said in contrast to tensions in the UK over civil freedoms and state versus federal government issues in the US, the UAE is unified in its acceptance of ID cards.
According to the EIA's 2010 to 2013 strategic plan the project aims to contribute to individual and national security by continuously updating and maintaining records.
The Future of Warfare conference continues today at the Emirates Centre for Strategic Studies and Research.