Google has temporarily locked some Afghan government email accounts, ostensibly to thwart the Taliban's search for former officials associated with the recently defunct United States-backed administration.
Reports have surfaced in the weeks since the Taliban took control of Afghanistan from Ashraf Ghani’s government, highlighting how biometric and Afghan payroll databases may be used by the new rulers to track down their foes.
A Google spokesperson said in a statement: “In consultation with experts, we are continuously assessing the situation in Afghanistan. We are taking temporary actions to secure relevant accounts, as information continues to come in.”
As reported by Reuters, Google said on 3 September that it was monitoring the situation in Afghanistan and "taking temporary actions to secure relevant accounts," but did not confirm that Afghan government accounts were being locked down. But according to a former government employee, the Taliban are attempting to obtain the emails of former officials.
The employee revealed late last month that the Taliban had instructed him to keep the data on the servers of the ministry where he used to work. The person said: "If I do so, then they will get access to the data and official communications of the previous ministry leadership."
As per publicly available mail exchanger records, almost two dozen Afghan government entities, including the ministries of finance, industry, higher education, and mining, used Google's servers to process official emails.
According to the records, the office of the presidential protocol in Afghanistan, as well as several local government organisations, used Google.
The report stated that information regarding previous administration officials, ex-ministers, government contractors, tribal friends, and foreign partners might be obtained by commanding government databases and emails.
Chad Anderson, a security researcher at DomainTools, assisted Reuters in determining which ministries used which email programme and said that access to emails "would give a real wealth of information".
While citing reports of retaliation against government employees, he also said that “just even having an employee list on a Google Sheet is a big problem”.
Microsoft Corp.'s email services were also utilised by many Afghan government departments, including the ministry of international affairs and the president, according to mail exchanger data.
However, it's unclear what efforts, if any, the software company is making to prevent data from coming into Taliban hands.
According to Anderson, the Taliban's aim to control the United States-built digital infrastructure is worth keeping an eye on. He claimed that intelligence gleaned from that infrastructure could be far more important to a young government than “old helicopters”.
However, on 15 August, just days after the Taliban took control of Kabul, Google-owned YouTube stated it would delete any account suspected of being run by the extremist group.
Twitter, on the other hand, said it will allow Taliban accounts to remain on the site while enforcing its rules against “glorification of violence, platform manipulation and spam" proactively.
According to other reports from 3 September, the financial services company Western Union will resume transactions, which might enable Afghans to get money from families living overseas.
While Western governments contemplate how to interact with the Taliban, the majority of Afghanistan's foreign reserves are stored abroad and frozen, putting pressure on the local currency.
The Taliban has tried to present a moderate front to the outside world as it consolidates control of Afghanistan, but reports claimed that the group's members were carrying out "house-to-house executions" in Kabul and elsewhere in the country, contradicting their conciliatory words.
Last month, United Nation human rights chief Michelle Bachelet warned of "summary executions" and strict restrictions on women in Taliban-controlled areas, while the family of an Afghan folk singer reported that their relative had been executed by the extremists just days after they declared "music is forbidden in Islam."
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