For more than a fortnight, a popular Afghan television reporter did not come out of the security of his home after the Taliban entered defenseless Kabul. Fearing that his past would hurt him, he furiously erased all his social media posts about the Taliban. And then he did what everyone who had worked closely with the Afghan government did: run to the airport.
At the airport, he sought anonymity in the chaotic crowd that converged there to escape the Taliban, until August 31, when the Americans carried out their final evacuation. Now he had let go of his clean shaven appearance by growing a beard and wearing a soiled and wrinkled salwar kameez. He failed to find a place for himself and his family on any of the planes that evacuated thousands of foreigners and Afghans out of the country.
Now he fears the worst.
Unlike in the past, when persecuted Afghans could escape by changing their identity by forging their documents or appearances, now their exposure to the regime is just waiting to happen – it’s a biometric scan far away. This is a widespread fear in Kabul and elsewhere.
Although the Taliban have announced amnesty to all Afghans, including those who served in the military, reports of Taliban militants armed with biometric scanners linked to a government database knocking on the doors of many residents. began to circulate. No one really believes in the idea that the Taliban face technological challenges and therefore cannot access the database containing the biometric data of millions of ordinary Afghans. What is slowly being realized is that if they need help, the Taliban can get it from Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI).
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Many terrorized Afghans also know that a few weeks before the fall of Kabul, Taliban soldiers kidnapped some 200 people who were passing through the town of Kunduz. The bus was stopped and the biometric scans of the occupants were carried out. And then, young Afghan National Defense Force (ANDF) soldiers, returning home on vacation in civilian clothes, were pulled out and shot in cold blood.
Everything ordinary Afghans wanted to do to escape the Taliban’s hawk-eye failed in Kunduz. Today Afghanistan presents a “doomsday scenario” for a society that has succumbed to the convincing reasoning of those tech evangelists who claim that corruption can only be tackled by introducing biometric scans.
Without a doubt, in Afghanistan corruption was rampant. The recruiting of the army presented the worst case scenario. It is common knowledge that the Afghan Defense Force was known as the “phantom army” – so many soldiers only existed on paper. This is one of the reasons why the Afghan army was unable to stand up to the Taliban juggernaut. This dubious ghost troop phenomenon has allowed notorious warlords and local commanders to pour their salaries into their own accounts, aside from massive and organized corruption in the army network and ground operations. In 2019, the US military claimed to have discovered 42,000 “ghost soldiers”.
The discovery of such fraud may have helped maintain the usefulness and efficiency of a central biometric database. However, has this happened to his followers in Afghanistan and other countries like India – what happens when this data falls into the wrong hands?
In New Delhi, Attorney General KK Venugopal answered these questions in the Supreme Court in March 2018. When the issue of Aadhaar’s data security came up, he proudly told the Supreme Court that the data theft was impossible “because it is secured behind walls 13 feet high and five feet thick.” The good lawyer thought that data theft was akin to a burglary. He didn’t know he could be hacked remotely. Since 2009, the biometric scans of 1.2 billion citizens have been collected.
Ironically, in Afghanistan these days the fear that data will betray the identity of citizens plays out in different ways and with different people. Newspaper articles suggest 14 BBC journalists and 200 judges are in hiding. There must be many more engineers, businessmen, professionals, doctors, nurses, journalists, interpreters, translators, etc., and people with a wide range of skills, who must be in a similar situation. They must fear that a Taliban with a handheld biometric scanner will strike.
Tech websites have claimed “secure” Afghan databases have iris, finger and face scans of millions of nationals. Many of these people are said to be the ones who helped the United States and the Karzai and Ghani governments. By accessing the database, the Taliban authorities would have a clear idea of who fought against them in which theater of war. The central biometric database is thus the starting point of a demanding revenge for many Taliban!
About 40 data fields are included for each name. According to MIT Technology Review, “It also contains details of the individual’s military specialty and career trajectory, as well as sensitive relational data such as the names of their fathers, uncles and grandfathers, as well as the names of two tribal elders per recruit. who vouched for their enlistment. It turns what was a simple digital catalog into something much more dangerous. ”
In other words, this access to data endangers not a single man but his entire ecosystem, his social network, his professional and personal life, his colleagues, friends, relatives and clan. In these peculiar and grim circumstances, imagine the fate of the thousands of Afghan army soldiers who sought to blend in with the crowd as they stepped out of their uniforms!
Now the Taliban would not only know their location and family networks, their military and professional capabilities. machines abandoned by the US and Afghan army on the run. In no time, the Taliban might be able to improve their military strength.
This is the reason why many Afghans who were aware of being seriously compromised by handing over their biometric scans to the US-backed Afghan government in the belief that they would stay safe were the ones who were desperate to leave the country. country. The United States evacuated approximately 1.3 lakh of Afghans and American nationals; other countries have also lifted around 50,000 people. Millions of people who remained are entering Pakistan, Iran or other countries.
The serious threat that the creation of such a biometric database poses to ordinary Afghans should be of concern to democratic institutions in other countries. They should rethink this unconditional submission to the seduction of technology to fight petty corruption by asking themselves, “What happens when data falls into the wrong hands?” ”
(The writer is editor-in-chief of Delhi-based magazine, Hardnews)