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Evidence of Taliban attempting biometric searches leaves data access unclear

Evidence of Taliban attempting biometric searches leaves data access unclear

The fall of Afghanistan back under Taliban control caused worries, among many others, that biometric data and the hardware to use it with could be used to persecute people for cooperation with the previous regime. Human Rights Watch reports new evidence has emerged that the use of biometrics in the country is putting people in danger.

Whether the Taliban has access to the biometric data in question is far from clear.

The loss of the data and systems to the Taliban is putting thousands at risk, according to the new report. The new evidence cited as showing that it “could put people at heightened risk of Taliban abuse,” in the words of Senior Crisis and Conflict Researcher Belkis Wille, could indicate the misuse of the data has been prevented.

“They told me they took my fingerprints to check if I was military and if they could confirm it, they would kill me,” a former Afghan military commander told Human Rights Watch. “I was very lucky that for some reason they did not get a match.”

The former commander was detained for 12 days, and his fingerprints and iris biometrics collected by his captors before he was released, according to the report.

HRW recounts six biometric systems used in the country, including one operated by the U.S. military and one for the Supreme Court’s payroll.

The situation has highlighted the risks that go along with deploying biometric systems in a country with fragile institutions and violent conflict. According to the report, the Taliban has been confirmed to be targeting individuals associated with the previous government, and killing or detaining former members of the military, among other repressive activities.

The organization has also heard from a source in the country who claims that multiple people who had worked for the company managing a biometric system had been detained, in attempts to force their assistance in using the system. The individuals declined.

Human Rights Watch wrote to many organizations involved in setting up Afghanistan’s biometric systems, and received replies from a few, but was unable to confirm much from those communications.

The organization concludes with a set of recommendations for stakeholders considering setting up or supporting biometric systems, emphasizing the importance of performing human rights and data protection impact assessments that take in the context of deployment.

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