Afghans Face Dilemma on Covering Up Digital Lives

Many fear Taliban will find evidence of cooperation with Americans
By Bob Cronin,  Newser Staff
Posted Aug 18, 2021 7:40 PM CDT
Afghans Face Dilemma on Covering Up Digital Lives
Taliban fighters gather around a vehicle during a protest Wednesday in Jalalabad, Afghanistan. Taliban militants attacked protesters in eastern Afghanistan who took down their banner and replaced it with the country’s flag. At least one person was killed.   (AP Photo)

Afghans who worked with US troops or contractors in the past 20 years—or did anything that might displease the Taliban—are facing difficult decisions about covering up the paper and digital trails that could incriminate them. Destroying records of US employment would seem to make sense, except that they're necessary for anyone hoping to get a visa to the US, Wired reports. Interpreters and other Afghans fear information posted online, or a file on a hard drive, or a paper printout could get them punished or killed under the new regime. There's urgency to the issue: Taliban fighters have begun knocking on doors in Kabul, looking for foreign collaborators, a journalist tweeted. When the Taliban was pushed out in 2001, there were hardly any computers in Afghanistan, per CNN. Now, there's fear that the Taliban use Facebook to identify opponents.

Even photos of someone participating in a non-Taliban life could be dangerous. Individuals and organizations are asking each other to scour social media accounts and pull photos and information that could endanger them. Every potential solution has drawbacks, though. Some suggest taking a photo of paper documents before burning them and uploading the photo to the cloud. But files sent to the cloud and back can be intercepted. "It would be foolish to think there isn't a risk," said Brian Dooley of Human Rights First. "The Taliban certainly know how to use technology." Some might wipe or even destroy their devices so the data is lost permanently, but those devices are how people stay in touch and find out what's going on in Afghanistan. Because pop music is banned, per Wired, even a Spotify logo on a home screen could be perilous. (More Afghanistan stories.)

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