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Afghans worry that US-built databases are a potential tool of Taliban repression

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Posted at 1:23 AM, Sep 07, 2021
and last updated 2021-09-07 07:10:31-04

Over two decades, the United States and its allies spent hundreds of millions of dollars building databases for the Afghan people.

The nobly stated goal was to promote law and order and government accountability, and to modernize a war-ravaged land. But in the Taliban's lightning seizure of power, most of that digital apparatus fell into the hands of an unreliable ruler.

Because it was built with few data-protection safeguards, the system now risks becoming a high-tech tool of a surveillance state.

As the Taliban get their governing feet, many Afghans worry the databases, including biometrics for tracking individuals, will be wielded to enforce social control and punish perceived foes.

Neesha Suarez, the constituent services director for Rep. Seth Moulton of Massachusetts — an Iraq War vet trying to help stranded Afghans escape — says those on the ground have received "ominous and threatening" phone calls, texts and WhatsApp messages.

One 27-year-old U.S. contractor who helped develop one of the databases told The Associated Press that he's received phone calls summoning him to the Afghan Defense Ministry. He's since gone into hiding.

While the Taliban have promised not to retaliate against those who assisted U.S. efforts in Afghanistan and have promised to lead a more progressive society compared to their draconian rule in the 1990s, many in the country have been slow to trust them.