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People in Afghanistan are rushing to clear their browsing data as a result of the Taliban taking over the country.
Afghans are doing this out of fear of punishment should their online history be judged as promoting values that are deemed not to align with the Islamic militia’s views.
The panic comes after the militant group regained control of the country over the weekend, including the Afghan capital of Kabul.
In the wake of the Taliban‘s resurgence, thousands of people are trying to flee Afghanistan.
Shocking images shared earlier today, August 17, showed more than 600 people crammed onto a cargo jet built to carry only 150 people. Meanwhile, other harrowing images have shown people clinging onto the outside of planes in desperation.
Discussing the concerns around Afghans’ browsing history, one man, who simply goes by Muhibullah for safety purposes, explained that he’s been working with western companies and the US Army in Kandahar for many years, which is evident from his online history.
Initially living in Kandahar, he’s since fled the city to Kabul, leaving behind his wife and children, WIRED reports.
Muhibullah has already discarded some of the documents proving that he worked with the US, but he, along with many others who worked with the US, need such documents to gain a visa and a potential route out of Afghanistan.
Discussing the challenge that many Afghans are currently facing, Welton Chang, chief technology officer at US non-governmental organisation Human Rights First, said:
The challenge is how do you balance getting information – like what’s going on at the airport, and people trying to reach you – with eliminating any evidence that a group would use to implicate you in something and take you round back to make an example of you.
The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) issued a warning in recent days, advising its partners to go through their social media pages and websites and to ‘remove photos and information that could make individuals or groups vulnerable’.
Nighat Dad, a women and digital rights lawyer from Pakistan, warned that while people might need the documents, it may be their ‘only choice’ to delete them.
She told WIRED:
You might think, ‘Who would care about their digital footprint?’, but, under a regime that in the 1990s in effect entirely banned pop music in Afghanistan, even the existence of the Spotify logo on a phone home screen could prove fatal.
‘People need to think hard about what they want to do with their digital history,’ Dad continued. ‘I know many people don’t have that luxury: these devices are their lifelines at the moment. But if they have real risks to their physical security and have no other way of making sure their digital footprint safe, it’s the only choice.’
If you’d like to help those who’ve been affected by the recent devastating events unfolding in Afghanistan, you can make a donation to the UN Refugee Agency United Kingdom here.
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