This is the true story of the Afghan biometric database abandoned to the Taliban


According to Jacobson’s book, AABIS aims to cover 80% of the Afghan population, or approximately 25 million people, by 2012. Although there is no public information about how many records the database currently contains, and neither the contractor who manages the database nor the U.S. Department of Defense official responded to a request for comment, an unverified digital project manager in its LinkedIn profile at its U.S. headquarters will It is set at 8.1 million records.

AABIS was widely used by the former Afghan government in many ways. Applications for government positions and roles in most programs require biometric checks from the MoI system to ensure that the applicant does not have a criminal or terrorist background. Biometric checks are also required for passport, national ID and driving license applications and registration for university entrance exams in the country.

Another database slightly smaller than AABIS is connected to the country’s electronic national identity card “e-tazkira”. By the time the government fell, approximately 6.2 million applications were being processed. National Bureau of Statistics and Information, Although it is not clear how many applicants have already submitted biometric data.

Other government agencies have also used or at least promoted biometrics. The Independent Election Commission used biometric scanners to try to prevent voter fraud during the 2019 parliamentary elections. Suspicious result. In 2020, the Ministry of Industry and Commerce Announce They will collect biometric information from people who register new businesses.

Although there are too many systems, they are never fully connected to each Audit in August 2019 It was discovered by the United States that despite spending 38 million US dollars so far, APPS has not achieved many of its goals: biometrics are still not directly integrated into its personnel files, but only linked by biometric unique numbers. The system is also not directly connected to other Afghan government computer systems, such as the computer system of the Ministry of Finance, which sends wages. The audit stated that APPS also relies on manual data entry processes, which leaves room for human error or manipulation.

A global problem

Afghanistan is not the only country adopting biometric technology. Many countries are worried about the so-called “ghost beneficiaries”-false identities used to illegally collect wages or other funds. Amba Kak, director of global policy and projects at AI Now Institute and legal expert on biometric systems, said that preventing such fraud is a common reason for biometric systems.

“It’s really easy to draw this [APPS] Very good,” Kak said. Who co-edited a book on global biometric policy. It “seems to have a lot of continuity with the global experience of biometrics.”

“Biometric identity as the only effective means of legal identification… is flawed and a bit dangerous.”

Amber Kak, AI Now

People generally believe that having a legal ID is a right, but “the only effective way to mix a biometric ID with a legal ID is flawed and a bit dangerous,” she said.

Kak questioned whether biometric technology—not policy fixes—is the correct solution to fraud, adding that it is usually “not evidence-based”.

However, largely driven by US military goals and international funding, Afghanistan has been very active in the promotion of such technologies. Even if APPS and other databases have not reached the expected level of functionality, they still contain many terabytes of data on Afghan citizens that the Taliban can mine.

“Identity advantage”-but who will dominate?

The increasing number of alerts left on biometric devices and databases, and Lots of other data on daily life in AfghanistanIn the two weeks between the Taliban’s entry into Kabul and the official withdrawal of the US military, the collection of sensitive data from people has not stopped.

This time, the data was mainly collected by kind volunteers Insecure Google Forms and Spreadsheets, Emphasizing that either the experience and lessons about data security have not been learned, or it must be relearned by each relevant team.

Singh said more attention needs to be paid to what happens to the data during conflict or government collapse. “We will not take it seriously,” he said, “but we should take it seriously, especially in these war-torn areas, where information may be used to cause a lot of damage.”

Biometrics researcher Kak suggests that the best way to protect sensitive data may actually be “these types of [data] Infrastructure… is not built right from the start. “

For author and journalist Jacobson, the irony is that the Department of Defense’s obsession with using data to establish identity may actually help the Taliban achieve its own version of identity advantage. “That would be the fear of what the Taliban is doing,” she said.

In the end, some experts said that if the Taliban did try to use the data, the fact that the Afghan government database was not interoperable might actually be a saving. “I suspect that the application still doesn’t work well, and given the recent incidents, this may be a good thing,” Dan Grazier, a veteran who works at the oversight organization and the government overseeing the project, said via email.

But for those connected to the APPS database, they may now find themselves or their family members being hunted by the Taliban. This is not irony, but betrayal.

“The Afghan military trusts their international partners, including and led by the United States, to establish such a system,” said a person familiar with the system. “Now the database will be used as [new] The weapon of the government. “


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