US-built databases a potential tool of Taliban repression

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FILE – In this June 30, 2021, file photo an employee scans the eyes of a woman for biometric data needed to apply for a passport, at the passport office in Kabul, Afghanistan. Over two decades, the United States and its allies spent hundreds of millions of dollars building databases for the Afghan people. The nobly stated goal was to promote law and order and government accountability, and to modernize a war-ravaged land.  But in the Taliban’s lightning seizure of power, most of that digital apparatus fell into the hands of an unreliable rulers. Built with few data-protection safeguards, it risks becoming the high-tech jackboots of a surveillance state. (AP Photo/Rahmat Gul, File)

BOSTON (AP) — Over two decades, the United States and its allies spent hundreds of millions of dollars building digital databases for the Afghan people.

Possibly 32 million Afghans’ identities could already be logged in a system that the Department of Defense (DOD) and the Afghan government used for criminal prosecutions, background checks, and voter registration.

The goal was to promote law and order and government accountability, and to modernize a war-ravaged land.

But now in the Taliban’s lightning seizure of power, most of that digital network fell into the hands of an unreliable ruler.

Some of the Afghans who had supported the U.S. have been attempting to hide or destroy physical and digital evidence of their identities. Built with very few safeguards, many of them fear their identity documents and the networks storing them could be transformed into death warrants in the hands of the Taliban. 

The system is now at risk of becoming a surveillance tool for the Taliban.

As the Taliban get their governing feet, many Afghans worry the databases, including biometrics for tracking individuals, will be used to enforce social control and punish perceived foes.

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