Google has temporarily blocked an unspecified 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 swift takeover of Afghanistan from a US-backed government, reports have highlighted how biometric and Afghan payroll databases could be misused by the new rulers to prey on their enemies.
In a statement on Friday, Alphabet’s Google stopped confirming that Afghan government accounts were being locked down, saying the company was monitoring the situation in Afghanistan and “taking temporary actions to secure relevant accounts”.
A former government official told Reuters that the Taliban are trying to obtain emails from former officials.
Late last month, the employee said the Taliban had asked him to keep the data on the servers of the ministry he worked for.
“If I do that, they will have access to the data and official communications from the previous ministry,” the employee said.
The employee said that he did not comply with this and has since gone into hiding. Reuters is not identifying the man or his former ministry out of concern for his safety.
Publicly available email exchange records show that some two dozen Afghan government agencies used Google’s servers to process official emails, including the Ministries of Finance, Industry, Higher Education and Mines. According to the data, the office of presidential protocol in Afghanistan also used Google, as well as some local government agencies.
Commander of government databases and emails could provide information on former government employees, ex-ministers, government contractors, tribal allies and foreign partners.
“It would provide a wealth of information,” said Chad Anderson, a security researcher at Internet intelligence firm DomainTools, who helped Reuters identify which government departments controlled which email platform. “Just having an employee list on a Google spreadsheet is a big deal,” he said, citing reports of retaliation against government employees.
Data from the email exchanger shows that Microsoft Corp’s email services were also used by several Afghan government agencies, including the State Department and the Presidency. But it is not clear what steps the software company is taking to prevent data from falling into the hands of the Taliban.
Microsoft declined to comment.
Anderson said the Taliban’s attempt to control US-built digital infrastructure was worth watching. Intelligence from that infrastructure, he said, “perhaps much more valuable to a fledgling government than old helicopters.”
(Except for the headline, this story has not been edited by NewsMadura staff and has been published from a syndicated feed.)