Afghans delete digital history over fears Taliban will use it to hunt them

Afghans are desperately scrambling to delete their digital history over fears Taliban fighters will use it against them.

The Taliban have reportedly got their hands on highly sensitive personal data belonging to regular Afghan citizens, which could leave them vulnerable to attacks and discrimination.

It has been just a matter of days since the fundamentalist organisation took the capital, Kabul, but it is believed that they may have already gained access to Afghanistan's biometric database.

Biometrics are body measurements and calculations related to human characteristics, examples of biometric data include retinal scans, fingerprints, facial and voice recognition, all used to identify an individual.

"We understand that the Taliban is now likely to have access to various biometric databases and equipment in Afghanistan," the Human Rights First group wrote on Twitter.

"This technology is likely to include access to a database with fingerprints and iris scans, and include facial recognition technology," the group added.

Activists are now warning that these technologies could be used by the Taliban to hunt down vulnerable groups, for example, those who co-operated with Allied forces after the toppling of the terrorist regime following the September 11, 2001 attacks.

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Human Rights First also published a Farsi language version of their tweet, with a guide on how to bypass giving away effective biometric data.

One way of collecting the data is through retinal scanning, which the US Army used to use on Afghan citizens, amassing a huge database on them.

Human Rights First said that by looking downwards during the scan, the data could be sullied.

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They also offered advice on how to evade the facial data, like wearing things to obscure facial features, or applying many layers of makeup, but conceded that fingerprint and iris scans were most difficult to bypass.

The advocacy group also published a guide on how to delete digital history, as many Afghans fear reprisals for messages, pictures as well as their music history.

Boys and men were "frantically going through phones to delete messages they have sent, music they've listened to & pictures they've taken"' BBC reporter Sana Safi wrote on Twitter on Sunday.

"With the data, it is much more difficult to hide, obfuscate your and your family's identities, and the data can also be used to flesh out your contacts and network," said Welton Chang, chief technology officer at Human Rights First of the biometric data.

The sensitive material could also be used "to create a new class structure – job applicants would have their bio-data compared to the database, and jobs could be denied on the basis of having connections to the former government or security forces," Mr Chang added.

The most 'dire circumstance' would be to use the data to target anyone who was involved in the previous government, or worked in an international non-profit, or was a human rights defender, he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

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