Afghans are wiping out their online lives

Afghans are wiping out their online lives

Social accounts are closed and phone memories deleted for fear of retaliation by the Taliban, who also have access to biometric archives. Thus citizens and associations are destroying documents and files

(photo: Subel Bhandari / picture alliance via Getty Images) On August 16, the Pangea Onlus Foundation published a video showing some activists in Afghanistan intent on destroying documents relating to their own work activities. “We burn the work of 20 years so that nothing can endanger the lives of the tens of thousands of women and children we have helped and are helping” reads the caption of the video.

The situation in Afghanistan is greatly compromised. As recalled by the Secretary General of the United Nations Antonio Guterres, there is a serious risk of violation of human rights, especially against women, minorities, intellectuals, journalists and activists.

For this reason, Pangea is not the only reality running for cover in the last days.

The fall of the Afghan government and the seizure of power by the Taliban have generated a race for damnatio memoriae. Many Afghans who have collaborated with Western forces or received aid over the years now fear being labeled as collaborators and facing systematic retaliation.

Fear is widespread despite the Taliban's numerous calls for calm and their promises not to organize any reprisals.

One of the main concerns of the civilian population is information stored on telephones. Reuters reported the experiences of various Afghan citizens who are desperately trying to erase videos, photos and documents from their devices that could somehow trace them back to Western countries. This is the case of many translators and fixers who over the years have worked in the field on behalf of European or North American NGOs and newspapers.

Thousands of citizens have deleted their social network accounts.

Wired Uk interviewed Muhibullah, a 30-year-old Afghan translator and former US Army collaborator who burned documents attesting to his work. In this regard, the US government agency Usaid has sent an email to its Afghan collaborators to explain to them how to remove potentially dangerous photos or content.

But what scares Afghans the most is biometric data. The Human Rights First NGO wrote on Twitter that it has learned that the Taliban are in control of biometric databases, which in all likelihood include access to fingerprint archives, iris and facial recognition.

Five years ago, the local Afghan press reported that the Taliban were able to use the government's biometric databases to hunt down members of the security forces. Today there are fears of a systematic application of similar procedures against the civilian population.

Human Rights First has published a guide in the Farsi language to explain how to erase one's digital history. Already a year ago the guide was used by activists from Hong Kong. Along with the guide, the NGO has also published a manual to circumvent biometric detections. Among the suggested indications are those of looking down and applying make-up by applying numerous layers of make-up.

However, great difficulties remain with respect to the recognition of the iris and fingerprints. “The data makes it difficult to obscure people's identities and can be used to trace people's contact networks,” explained Welton Chang, chief technology officer of Human Rights First.


One of the solutions could be the activation of humanitarian corridors capable of rescuing those who risk their lives. Already in June - almost two months before the total collapse of Afghanistan - Italy completed Operation Aquila I, thanks to which 228 collaborators and their families landed on Italian soil. These are mainly interpreters whose effective collaboration has been extensively documented and verified.

Another 85 people from Afghanistan should arrive in Rome today.

The military estimated the presence of about 1500 people from evacuate. For this reason, Operation Aquila I - coordinated by the Ministries of Foreign Affairs and the Interior - was followed by Operation Aquila II, active but not yet completed. Aquila II has made operational a reinforced team dedicated to facilitating the recovery operations, and identification for the arrival in Italy of another 391 people.

In a public appeal to Mario Draghi, Il Giornale denounced the existence of "bureaucratic slowness and checks, blameworthiness between the ministries involved (Defense, Foreign Affairs, Interior), difficulties for Afghans in finding documents, starting with the passport" which overall "left dozens of collaborators in limbo". According to Il Giornale, in the meantime, the demands of the Afghans have increased, greatly exceeding two thousand units due to the deterioration of the situation.

"The defense is maximum commitment to evacuate those who have collaborated with Italy" Defense Minister Lorenzo Guerini said. Prime Minister Mario Draghi confirmed that "There are still military teams and diplomats on the field who will have to help evacuate our fellow citizens, Afghan collaborators and their families".

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Afghanistan Big data Terrorism globalData.fldTopic = "Afghanistan, Big data, Terrorism"

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