October 6, 2022

The ethics of tracking Taliban detainees

Is it possible that the CIA may have “chipped” the detainees so that they can track them?

Attaching chips to dementia patients is becoming a common way of ensuring that their carers know where they are and whether they are safe. In the UK, patients can wear tracking systems which allow them to speak to an operator in a call centre run by local authorities. Welfare agencies have expressed concerns about the patients’ informed consent and privacy.

But the ethical issues are far more tangled if spy agencies are chipping released prisoners, US bioethicist Art Caplan points out.

The American government recently traded five Taliban members detained at Guantanamo Bay for Sgt Bowe Bergdahl, a soldier held by the Taliban. Is it possible that the CIA may have “chipped” the detainees so that they can track them?

Such ‘chipping’ is common for pets and becoming more common for persons with dementia at high risk of wandering from nursing homes.  It might allow surveillance of where the exchanged Taliban prisoners go in terms of enforcing their exile in Qatar for a year or making them inadvertent, unwitting assets for intelligence purposes when they finally do return home.

I don’t want to get into the issue of how sophisticated a surgically implanted chip might be or where is the best place to insert such a device to ensure undetectability or long-term functionality.  I do want to raise the issue of whether this form of secret chipping would be ethical since whether it was done with these men or not it is very likely it could be done in the future.

What are the ethics of surgery without informed consent to protect national security? It’s a thought-provoking question for, as Caplan points out, surgical implants to track enemies is all but inevitable.

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