There is growing concern that the Taliban, after taking control of Afghanistan, had access to biometric databases created using military devices built by the United States, with the help of which they could identify and target Afghans.
“We understand that the Taliban are now likely to have access to various databases and biometric equipment in Afghanistan, including some left behind by coalition military forces,” noted Human Rights First, an international rights organization. humans based in New York and Washington.
One such handheld biometric device, known as Handheld Interagency Identity Detection Equipment (HIIDE), was originally developed by the US government to identify insurgents.
Using the device, Western coalition forces collected and compared iris, fingerprint and facial scans of more than one million Afghans with a biometric database.
The biometrics initiative was initially tested in 2002. Its objectives then were to prevent criminals and Taliban insurgents from infiltrating the Afghan army and police, several task forces, the Afghan government starting to apply the system to improve the ease and efficiency of license processing. .
The U.S. Army’s Biometrics Task Force in Afghanistan has announced its goal of collecting biometric data on 80 percent of the estimated 25 million Afghan citizens, according to investigative journalist Annie Jacobsen, who pointed out in his recent book. First platoon.
“The two-year target set by the Department of Defense was 21 million sets of fingerprints, iris scans and, in some cases, DNA, starting with all men from military age. In the fall of 2011, the Defense Ministry had biometric data on more than 2 million people in Afghanistan. The data he had uploaded to his proprietary ABIS database, ”Ms. Jacobsen wrote in her book.
While it is not clear whether the US military’s target was met, some of these HIIDE biometric devices were seized by the Taliban during their offensive last week, Interception reported, citing US military officials.
Experts, including those from Human Rights First, have warned that these wearable devices could provide the Taliban with access to biometrics and biographies, including those of those who aided coalition forces.
Although it is not currently clear whether the Taliban had access to biometric data, the risk to people whose data is stored on such systems is very high.
In 2016 and 2017, there were reports that the Taliban was stopping buses and performing biometric checks on passengers to determine if there were government officials on the bus, according to a report by Privacy International, a charity. UK based who works at the intersection of technology. and human rights.
“The risks posed by the development of biometric databases in Afghanistan were clearly illustrated when local journalists reported in 2016 and 2017 that Taliban insurgents were stopping buses and using biometric scanners to identify and execute any passengers who were determined to be members of the security forces ”, noted report.
In one of these bus ambushes, the Taliban took 200 passengers hostage, used government biometric systems to search for members of the security forces and executed 10 people there, according to a report from Afghanistan in 2016.
These concerns grew after reports that the Taliban were going door-to-door across the country, looking for those who worked for coalition forces or the previous government.
The Taliban could also use the Afghan government’s biometric ID card known as Tazkira to track and target people, Ramanjit Singh Chima, director of Asia-Pacific policy at Access Now, told Reuters news agency. .
People in central positions in the Afghan army, police and investigative units are particularly at risk.
Human Rights First, in a recent fact sheet, described some ways in English, Pashto and Dair for Afghans to avoid recognition by the Taliban, based on biometric data.
The organization warned, however, that outdoing technology could be tricky and involve risks.