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Concerned that they could be targeted by Taliban online surveillance operations, U.S. Afghan allies are reportedly scrambling to delete their social media profiles in droves. Meanwhile, privacy advocates are raising the concern that the U.S. data program possibly inherited by the Taliban could lead to blowback threatening civil liberties in America.

The New York-based group Human Rights First announced on Aug. 16 that Taliban fighters captured U.S. surveillance tools. These devices, known as Handheld Interagency Identity Detection Equipment (HIIDE), were used by soldiers to scan the biometrics of Afghans to match fingerprints on improvised explosive devices (IEDs), and for other such forensic investigations.

“We understand that the Taliban is now likely to have access to various biometric databases and equipment in Afghanistan, including some left behind by coalition military forces,” the human rights group said. “This technology is likely to include access to a database with fingerprints and iris scans, and include facial recognition technology.”

The Human Rights First advisory included multilingual guides for Afghan allies on protecting their digital identities.

The warning corresponds with numerous reports of Afghans deleting their social media profiles in an attempt to protect their privacy from the Taliban. USAID reportedly circulated emails to its partners in Afghanistan to “remove photos and information that could make individuals or groups vulnerable.”

Former U.S. Army prosecutor John Maher told The Epoch Times that this specific warning about the Taliban taking HIIDE equipment is probably overblown.

Maher, who worked with the Afghan biometrics program during his time as program manager of the Justice Center in Parwan, said that HIIDE devices are password-protected. And after a soldier uses the device and uploads the data at the central database, protocol says to wipe the device clean, said Maher.

“Even if [Taliban] can get into that device, they’ll get an unclassified list of their own people,” added Maher, who has also used Afghan biometric evidence in the successful—though controversial—campaign to have Donald Trump pardon a soldier convicted of killing civilians.

By Ken Silva

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