This is the true story of biometric databases in Afghanistan left behind by the Taliban
According to Jacobsen’s book, AABIS aims to cover 80% of Afghanistan’s population by 2012, or nearly 25 million people. While there is no publicly available information on how many records are currently included in the database, and neither the contractor who manages the database nor officials from the U.S. Defense Department have responded to requests for comment, one unconfirmed number from US -based LinkedIn profile. The program manager put it at 8.1 million records.
AABIS was widely used in various ways by the previous government in Afghanistan. Applications for government jobs and roles on most projects require a biometric check from the MOI system to ensure applicants have no criminal or terrorist background. Biometric checks are also required for passports, national ID, and driver’s license applications, as well as registrations for the country’s college entrance exam.
Another database, much smaller than AABIS, is connected to “e-tazkira,” the country’s national ID card. By the time the government fell, it had nearly 6.2 million applications in the process, according to The National Statistics and Information Authority, even if it is unclear how many applicants have already submitted biometric data.
Biometrics are also used – or at least published – in other government departments. The Independent Election Commission is using biometric scanners to try to prevent voter fraud during the 2019 parliamentary elections, with questionable consequences. In 2020, the Ministry of Commerce and Industries Office has partnered that it will collect biometrics from those who register new businesses.
Despite most systems, they are never connected to each other. A August 2019 audit The U.S. has found that despite the $ 38 million spent to date, APPS has not fulfilled most of its objectives: biometric has not yet been integrated directly into staff files, but has only been linked to unique biometric numbers. Nor does the system directly connect to other government computer systems, such as the Ministry of Finance, which sends the salary. APPS also relies on manual data entry processes, such as audits, that allow room for error or human manipulation.
A world issue
Afghanistan is not the only country to adopt biometric. Many countries are concerned about so -called “ghost beneficiaries” – fake identities used to illegally collect salaries or other funds. Preventing such fraud is a common rationale for biometric systems, said Amba Kak, director of global policy and programs at the AI Now institute and a legal expert on biometric systems.
“It’s really easy to paint [APPS] as remarkable, “said Kak, who co-edited a book on global biometric policies. It “seems to have a lot of continuity in the world’s experiences” around biometric.
It is widely recognized that having legal identification documents is correct, but “competing with biometric ID as the only efficient method for legal identification,” he says, “is flawed and little risk.”
Kak questioned whether biometric-rather than policy fix-was the right solution to fraud, adding that they were often “not evidence-based.”
But largely driven by U.S. military goals and international funding, Afghanistan is aggressively launching such technologies. Even if APPS and other databases have not yet reached the level of functionality they envisioned, they still contain many terabytes of data on Afghan citizens that could be eaten by the Taliban.
“Domination of identity” – but through whom?
The growing alarm of biometric devices and databases remains, and the reams of other data about ordinary life in Afghanistan, did not stop the collection of sensitive data on people in the two weeks between the Taliban’s entry into Kabul and the official withdrawal of American forces.
This time, the data was collected mostly by well -intentioned volunteers uncertain forms and spreadsheets on Google, pointing out anyone whose lessons on data security are not yet known or that should also be known to each stakeholder group.
Singh said the issue of what happens to the data during conflicts or government collapse needs to be given more attention. “We don’t take it seriously,” he said, “But we have to, especially in war -torn areas where information can be used to do a lot of damage.”
Kak, the biometric law researcher, suggests that perhaps the best way to protect sensitive data is if “these types of [data] the infrastructures … were not built first. ”
For Jacobsen, the author and reporter, it’s ridiculous that the Department of Defense’s concern with using data to establish identity could actually help the Taliban achieve its own version of identity dominance. “That’s the fear of what the Taliban is doing,” he said.
Later, some experts said that Afghan government databases are less consistent which could be a saving grace if the Taliban try to use the data. “I suspect APPS is still not going well, which is probably a good thing following past events,” said Dan Grazier, a veteran who works with the watchdog group Project on Government Oversight, via email.
But for those connected to the APPS database, who can now find themselves or their family members being hunted by the Taliban, there is less anxiety and more betrayal.
“The Afghan military relies on their international partners, including and led by the U.S., to build a system like this,” said one of the individuals familiar with the system. “And now that database will be used as [new] weapons of government. ”
This article was updated with comment from the Department of Defense.