Google has temporarily locked an undisclosed number of Afghan government email accounts owing to the fear resulting from the digital paper trail left by former officials and their international partners.
In the wake of the Taliban's takeover of Afghanistan, reports have indicated that biometric and Afghan payroll databases might be exploited by the new rulers to hunt their enemies, according to a report by India Today.
In a statement on Friday, Alphabet Inc's Google insinuated that Afghan government accounts were being locked down, on the pretext that the company was monitoring the situation in Afghanistan and thus "taking temporary actions to secure relevant accounts."
Former employee breaks silence
One employee of the former government has told Reuters the Taliban are seeking to acquire former officials' emails. The employee further stated that the Taliban had asked him to save the data stored on the servers of the ministry he used to work for.
"If I do so, then they will get access to the data and official communications of the previous ministry leadership," the employee said. The employee stated that he did not comply and hence has since gone into hiding.
Mail exchanger records available to the public reveal that two dozen Afghan government bodies used Google's servers to handle official emails, including the ministries of finance, industry, higher education, and mines. Even Afghanistan's office of the presidential protocol also used Google, according to the records, as did some local government bodies.
"It would give a real wealth of information," said Chad Anderson, a security researcher with internet intelligence firm DomainTools who helped Reuters identify which ministries ran which email platform. "Just even having an employee list on a Google Sheet is a big problem," he said, citing reports of reprisals against government workers.
Anderson further added that it was worth tracking the Taliban's attempt to control the digital infrastructure of Google. Intelligence drawn from that infrastructure, he said, "may be far more valuable to a fledgling government than old helicopters."