A U.S-based human rights group has encouraged Afghans to delete their data to protect themselves from Taliban retribution.
Photos, videos, and data points that link to the old way of life in Afghanistan are all potential evidence of transgressions. There are several ways in which the Taliban could find out information: information stored locally on devices, contacts, and messages exchanged between them, cloud services, and data moving in between which are subject to interception.
But there are further ways that cannot be controlled or erased, such as photographs of education projects on NGO websites and digital evidence of life before Taliban rule.
The Chief Technology Officer at Human Rights First, Welton Chang, told Reuters that in the most “dire circumstance,” the Taliban could use Afghans’ data to discover and target those who had worked with the previous government, its security forces, and its foreign allies.
“We understand that the Taliban is now likely to have access to various biometric databases and equipment in Afghanistan,” the group wrote on Twitter on Monday. “This technology is likely to include access to a database with fingerprints and iris scans and include facial recognition technology.”
“The challenge is how do you balance getting information – like what’s going on at the airport, and people trying to reach you – with eliminating any evidence that a group would use to implicate you in something and take you round back to make an example of you.”
Human Rights First have put together a guide on how to delete your digital history in English; an unofficial translation is also available in Arabic. The guide contains information on how to wipe and delete social media accounts and unused accounts. However, the guide isn’t comprehensible to many Afghans, who speak Dari or Pashto.
Many who have worked with the US must make the choice between destroying all data to stay safe or keep documents and attempt to hide them, as paperwork is vital to acquire a visa and a potential route out of Afghanistan.
Retaining these documents puts them in a very dangerous position; Taliban militia is reportedly going door-to-door to find those who have worked with foreign governments and non-governmental organisations (NGOs).