People in Afghanistan, ranging from journalists to those who worked with western troops and NGOs over the past two decades, are seeking to delete their online history in fear of Taliban retribution.

Afghan activists fear their digital history can be used to track them down as the Taliban insurgent prepare to run the country.
Afghan activists fear their digital history can be used to track them down as the Taliban insurgent prepare to run the country. (AP)

Afghans, particularly those who worked on human rights or with the United States, are worried about leaving behind a digital footprint that can be used by the Taliban to track them down. 

The insurgent group, which took over the capital Kabul earlier this week, has announced a general amnesty for everyone. 

But people who have lived through the Taliban rule in the 1990s have a hard time believing that the group won't resort to punishments that included amputations and public lashings. 

"It's very important we talk to Afghans on the ground. I think there's something terribly wrong with how some media organisations are presenting Taliban — as they are now modern and somehow changed," Nighat Dad, a Pakistani digital rights activist, told TRT World

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In the last few days, some Afghan NGO workers have approached Dad asking her how to erase their digital profiles. 

After the US forces invaded Afghanistan in 2001, they hired thousands of locals to work as translators and contractors at military bases. 

Washington-backed organisations such as USAID hired Afghans to promote girls education and democracy. 

Some foreign-funded programmes were specifically aimed at promoting arts, culture, music and media freedom — many of which the Taliban previously banned in its 90s regime. 

The desperation of the Afghans, including those who worked with US and its NATO allies, became apparent for the world to see when thousands of people flooded the Kabul airport, some trying to cling to the landing gear of military planes and falling to their death. 

A US-based advocacy Human Rights First has published a Farsi-language version of its guide on how to delete digital history — that it had produced last year for activists in Hong Kong — and also put together a manual on how to evade biometrics.

For instance, the guide shares resources on how to delete Twitter and Facebook posts. 

'Concerned about databases'

Dgital rights groups are already getting "significant numbers" of requests from civil society groups and activists on securing their digital presence, said Raman Jit Singh Chima, Asia Pacific policy director at Access Now.

"We are also very concerned about databases retained by aid agencies and other groups, and alarmed that there is no clarity whether mitigation measures are being taken to either delete or purge information that can be used to target people," he said.

The digital identity cards, the Tazkira, can expose certain ethnic groups, while even telecom companies have a "wealth of data" that can be used to track and target people, he added.

The responsibility to secure data systems was ultimately that of the Afghan government, said Chang, although the US forces and its allies probably had a role in "designing the systems in the first place and helping with implementation."

"Likely not enough deliberate planning was done at the outset of creating, maintaining and turning over the system in terms of risk assessments and prevention of misuse," he added.

Meanwhile, Afghans were doing what they could to scrub their digital profiles.

But there lies a catch. 

The Afghans who worked with western forces or embassies have to furnish documents and proofs that might include emails from US soldiers to apply for asylum. The more of the digital history they delete, the less they have to attach with their applications. 

"That is such a ridiculous requirement. The embassies and other organisations should already have the data on these workers. It shouldn't' be an Afghan's responsibility to prove that he or she worked for an organisation," said Dad. 

Source: TRTWorld and agencies