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Human Rights groups fear that the Taliban could soon be able to use collected biometric data to identify contractors and locals working with the US military.
What Biometric Data?
It has been reported that, over time, while on operations in Afghanistan, the US military collected biometric data such as fingerprints and retina scans using a handheld device called HIIDE (Handheld Interagency Identity Detection Equipment). The plan was to collect the data of 80 percent of the population (25 million people) in the hope that it would enable the identification of bomb-makers, as well as those working with and helping the US military.
Also, the Afghan government has collected biometric data (including fingerprints and iris scans) for its e-Tazkira biometric identity card, and for voter registration in the 2019 elections (facial recognition). At the beginning of this year, the Afghan government had also planned to conduct biometric registration of students and staff of madrassas around the country, in a bid to prevent misuse of the schools, and to help in the move towards a single source curriculum.
What Could Happen?
The fear is this; now that the whole biometric infrastructure is in the hands of the Taliban, the Taliban could obtain and use biometric readers, the HIDE devices, or find other ways to use the collected data to identify and punish anyone who worked with/for the Americans. Unfortunately, it has been reported that HIDE devices are already in Taliban hands and that the Taliban have been making house-to-house inspections using a biometrics machine.
Social Media Profile Fears – Facebook Takes Action
Facebook has announced that in response to concerns that friends lists in Facebook profiles could be used by the Taliban, it has launched a one-click tool for people in Afghanistan to quickly lock down their account, thereby preventing those who aren’t their friends from downloading or sharing their profile photo or seeing posts on their timeline. Facebook is also reported to be continuing a ban on Taliban content on its platform.
Although the new Facebook feature will provide some peace of mind and protection, it will not stop the Taliban from using confiscated/stolen devices to access friends lists.
Other Social Media Companies
Twitter has responded to accusations that the Taliban has been using its platform by saying that its rules don’t allow groups that promote terrorism or violence against civilians. Also, LinkedIn has said that it has taken some measures to limit the visibility of connections for its members in Afghanistan.
What Does This Mean For Your Business?
This story highlights the importance of data security and particularly how access to personal data can be a two-edged sword in certain situations. In ordinary circumstances, the worst that can happen with data breaches or inadequate privacy or security measures for data storage / devices / social media platforms is theft (identity, money, and more personal data), or damage to a company and its reputation, in a war situation, data can viewed in a whole new light. Just as the accuracy of the collected biometric data could have been used to protect the Americans, their contractors, and Afghan citizens, now that the data (and the readers) are in Taliban hands, the data can mean the difference between life and death. In modern warfare, personal data can be a valuable weapon in itself and lessons learned in Afghanistan could have implications for how biometric data is stored in other countries.