Kabul: Google has temporarily locked down some Afghan government email accounts as the Taliban is attempting to access the emails, Reuters has reported. The move comes over fears grow over the digital paper trail left by former officials and their international partners. Google said on Friday it was "taking temporary actions to secure relevant accounts," but did not admit to a complete lockdown.
"In consultation with experts, we are continuously assessing the situation in Afghanistan. We are taking temporary actions to secure relevant accounts, as information continues to come in," a Google spokesperson said in a statement.
In the weeks since the Taliban's swift takeover of Afghanistan from a U.S.-backed government, reports have highlighted how biometric and Afghan payroll databases might be exploited by the new rulers to hunt their enemies. The person familiar with the matter told the outlet the accounts were completely locked down and confirmed the reports that this information could be used to track down former government officials.
Publicly available mail exchanger records show that some two dozen Afghan government bodies used Google's servers to handle official emails, including the ministries of finance, industry, higher education, and mines. Afghanistan's office of presidential protocol also used Google, according to the records, as did some local government bodies.
Mail exchanger records show that Microsoft Corp's email services were also used by several Afghan government agencies, including the ministry of foreign affairs and the presidency. But it isn't clear what steps, if any, the software firm is taking to prevent data from falling into the hands of the Taliban.
An employee of the former government told Reuters that the Taliban had asked him in late July to save data on the ministry in which he was formerly employed for on servers the group could access.
"If I do so, then they will get access to the data and official communications of the previous ministry leadership," the employee said, adding that he is now in hiding since he did not cooperate with the request.
Former government officials, activists, and vulnerable groups fear reprisal as the Taliban has taken control of Kabul.
This comes despite the Taliban have tried to portray a more moderate image this time than when they last seized power in 1996. They have announced amnesty to all, including those who worked for western militaries or the Afghan government or police.
However, there have been reports that reality on the ground is quite different. Days after seizing control, the Taliban brutally executed a police chief who headed the police in Bagdhis province in Herat. In July, Taliban massacred nine ethnic Hazara men after taking control of Afghanistan's Ghazni province.
According to Reuters, commandeering government databases and emails could provide information about employees of the former administration, ex-ministers, government contractors, tribal allies and foreign partners.
"It would give a real wealth of information," said Chad Anderson, a security researcher with internet intelligence firm DomainTools. "Just even having an employee list on a Google Sheet is a big problem," he said, citing reports of reprisals against government workers.
With ANI inputs