Biometric data privacy could be life or death in Afghanistan ruled by Taliban
The threat of being identified against one’s will by a violent authoritarian regime through biometrics is one of the nightmare scenarios sometimes invoked by the technology’s opponents. That nightmare may be coming true in Afghanistan.
The Taliban’s plunder from its abrupt takeover of Afghanistan includes biometric identification devices left behind by government departments and coalition forces.
Handheld Interagency Identity Detection Equipment (HIIDE) was seized, several U.S. military personnel told The Intercept, containing iris and fingerprint biometric templates and biographical information. The devices are also capable of accessing large centralized databases of biometric data, according to the report.
As part of the military campaign in the country, biometric records of suspected terrorists were collected, along with records of Afghans who helped coalition forces. An Army Special Operations veteran told The Intercept that the Taliban may not be able to access HIIDE devices without additional resources, but may be able to get those from Pakistan.
An American investigative reporter, Annie Jacobsen, has reported that the Pentagon had hoped to collect biometrics from four in five Afghans.
Human Rights First says the Taliban “is now likely to have access to various biometric databases and equipment” already, Reuters writes. That assessment included facial recognition technology.
Afghanistan’s democratic government introduced biometrics for voter authentication, catching thousands of fraud attempts in the process, and had planned to expand the technology’s use before the U.S. withdrawal and immediate collapse of the state.
TOLOnews reported five years ago that the Taliban were using government biometrics to identify members of the country’s security forces, and social media reports suggest the group has been searching for government collaborators.
Taskira digital identity cards could also be a source of information used to persecute people, according to civil society analysts.
Numerous people in Afghanistan are rushing to delete any part of their digital past that could betray them to the country’s new rulers, according to Wired.