Afghan People Feeling Fear About Their Digital Footprint

The sudden change of regime in Afghanistan shows the current challenge of people who are trying to put behind their digital past. Almost 4 million people in Afghanistan use social media regularly, while digital security has not improved during the last few years.

The Woman Post | Catalina Mejía Pizano

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As we all know, the Taliban hadn’t ruled in Afghanistan since the year 2001. At that time, the internet was available, but the most modern cellphone was a Nokia, and Facebook, Youtube, or Twitter didn’t exist yet. Twenty years later, the digital world has changed dramatically. Social media has become an important part of our lives, where we have lots of friends, connections and where we can share interests and even meet people without having to put much effort. The rise of the Taliban in Afghanistan is now making people fear of their digital footprint, as has previously happened in Myanmar, Hong Kong, or the Islamic State.

What is happening with the Taliban, should raise consciousness among other people throughout the world, but according to Welton Chang, Chief Technology Officer at Human Rights First, this will be a challenge. In a recent interview, Chang mentioned he hoped that the situation in Afghanistan would make people more aware of how much they shared through social media, but he also claimed that this will definitely be a difficult task because we all live in a digital environment in which every action we take, leaves evidence.

Chang’s organization has published at least three documents that have been translated to Dari or Pashto (main spoken languages in Afghanistan), to help citizens from the affected countries, try to delete their digital footprint. One of them is named “How to Delete your Digital History.” Its content describes the process that shows the various digital services that we may have used in our lives. In the case of Afghanistan, just having an account in an application or using software that has been utilized by foreign organizations, could make you potentially suspicious. According to the tutorial, people must also place their name in search engines to see what online information is available of yourself.


Another organization, named Access Now, also offers a guide for self doxing, which means finding online the personal information of people who don’t want to be identified. This guide allows people to follow the steps of the Government or Police who want to know who is behind an anonymous account for any type of social media. Chang mentioned that not using any digital instruments is also suspicious nowadays.

We may wonder if the Taliban, who don’t like modernity or contemporary music, will effectively have good skills regarding technology. There is proof that they do. In 2016, they captured 200 in the Kunduz province and killed 12 of them. The passengers mentioned that the Taliban had a device that allowed them, to check fingerprints and identify the people that were members of the security forces. Chang also mentioned the possibility that the Taliban even have specialists in the field. The Taliban have used Facebook to find users who have connections with the United States. According to Chang, the Taliban even have private rooms at the app named Clubhouse.

Uncertainty remains, but it is clear that people in the global information security and digital rights could have made a greater effort to listen to Afghan people in tech many years ago. What worries most at this point is that security forces in Afghanistan did not assess the digital risks properly to ameliorate the digital security of locals who made part of their teams. The lives of many people have changed in the country, and there is a high possibility of a digital terror offensive.

By clicking here you can know the steps to protect your online identity from the Taliban.

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