Fears grow over digital paper trail left by former officials and their international partners
Google has temporarily locked down an unknown number of Afghan government email accounts, according to a person familiar with the matter, as fears grow over the digital paper trail left by former officials and their international partners.
In the weeks following the Taliban’s rapid takeover of Afghanistan from a US-backed government, reports have highlighted how Afghan biometric and payroll databases could be exploited by the United States. new rulers to drive out their enemies.
In a statement released Friday, Google did not confirm that Afghan government accounts were on hold, saying the company was monitoring the situation in Afghanistan and “taking temporary measures to secure the affected accounts.”
An employee of the former government told Reuters that the Taliban were seeking emails from former officials.
At the end of last month, the employee said the Taliban asked him to keep the data held on the servers of the ministry he worked for.
“If I do, then they will have access to data and official communications from the previous branch of the ministry,” the employee said.
The employee said he did not comply and has since gone into hiding. Reuters does not identify the man or his former ministry out of concern for his safety.
Publicly available mail exchanger records show that around 20 Afghan government agencies have used Google servers to manage official emails, including the ministries of finance, industry, higher education and mines. The Afghan Presidential Protocol Office has also used Google, according to records, as have some local government agencies.
The requisition of government databases and emails could provide information on former administration employees, former ministers, government contractors, tribal allies and foreign partners.
“It would provide a veritable wealth of information,” said Chad Anderson, security researcher at DomainTools, an internet intelligence firm, which helped Reuters identify which departments operated which messaging platform. “Just having a list of employees on a Google Sheet is a big deal,” he said, citing reports of retaliation against officials.
Mail exchanger records show that Microsoft’s email services were also used by several Afghan government agencies, including the Foreign Ministry and the Presidency. But it’s unclear what steps, if any, the software company is taking to prevent the data from falling into the hands of the Taliban.
Microsoft declined to comment.