Taliban May Have Its Hands on Afghan US Allies' Biometric Data

The iris scans and fingerprints the US had collected could now be under the Taliban's control.
Ameya Paleja
Iris scans and fingerprints were used in Afghanistan to vet locals. Rost-9D/ iStock

As the Taliban forces reassert their control over Afghanistan, locals have scrambled for basic necessities. Many are unsure about how the Taliban will treat them and if they would be punished for assisting the US forces or previous governments. Unfortunately, the Taliban have an easy way of figuring this out: the US military biometric devices. 

Recently, The Intercept reported that the Taliban forces had seized military-grade biometric devices. Called Handheld Interagency Identity Detection Equipment (HIIDE), these devices hold sensitive information such as iris scans and fingerprints of many Afghani nationals, who worked with US-coalition forces, before their abrupt departure. 

The US forces began collecting biometric data of Afghan locals in 2010 to document terrorists and help track insurgents. However, the plan soon began covering locals too, who were helping the forces gather intel, and soon, HIIDE became a tool to identify them as well. According to a recent NPR report, the Pentagon aimed to cover as many as 80 percent of the local population in its database. While the US forces remained on Afghan soil, HIIDE was also used to screen thousands of locals and to vet personnel wishing to work at US embassies and consulates, The Intercept reported. 

Now that the Taliban forces have access to these tools, they can simply repurpose them to identify who worked with the US forces and in what capacities. Reuters reported that the Taliban has already begun door-to-door searches looking for government officials, journalists, and even those who had worked with non-profits and human rights organizations, in the past. 

US-based human rights organization, Human Rights First, even released a guide in the local language, Farsi, detailing steps to delete digital histories from phones and other devices in the wake of Taliban control of the capital city, Reuters said. However, deleting entries from biometric databases is beyond the ability of the locals. As designers and implementers of a biometrics-based recognition program, the US clearly hasn't done enough to prevent data misuse. There are have been no confirmations if the US managed to destroy these databases. 

One could argue that the technologically backward Taliban might not have the expertise to access the databases. But the group has been quick to find allies in China and Pakistan and either could deploy personnel to crack the wealth of information stored in the databases. 

While the Taliban had promised its citizens that it will, "protect their life, property, and honor and create a peaceful and secure environment", history tells us that ethnic groups and women are particularly at risk in the country. 

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