WASHINGTON, Sept. 3 (Reuters) – Google has temporarily locked an unspecified number of Afghan government email accounts as fears mount over the digital paper trail left by former officials and international partners, according to a person familiar with the matter.
In the weeks since the Taliban rapidly took over Afghanistan from a US-backed government, reports have highlighted how this has happened. biometric and Afghan payroll databases can be used by new rulers to hunt down their enemies.
In a statement Friday, Alphabet Inc’s Google (GOOGL.O) He failed to confirm that the Afghan government’s accounts had been locked, saying the company was monitoring the situation in Afghanistan and was “taking temporary measures to secure the accounts involved”.
An employee of the former government told Reuters that the Taliban were trying to retrieve emails from former officials.
Late last month, the employee said the Taliban had asked him to protect data held on the servers of his former ministry.
“If I do this, they will have access to data and official communications from the previous ministry leadership,” the employee said.
The employee said he didn’t fit and has been hiding ever since. Reuters does not identify the man or his former ministry due to security concerns.
Public mail exchanger records show that up to two dozen Afghan government agencies use Google’s servers to process official emails, including the ministries of finance, industry, higher education, and mining. According to the records, the protocol office of the president of Afghanistan also used Google, as did some local government bodies.
Commander government databases and emails can provide information on former administration employees, former ministers, government contractors, tribal allies and foreign partners.
“It will provide a real wealth of information,” said Chad Anderson, a security researcher at internet intelligence firm DomainTools, which helped Reuters identify which ministries are running which email platform. “Even having an employee list in a Google Spreadsheet is a big deal,” he said, citing reports of retaliation against government employees.
Mail changer records, Microsoft Corp. (MSFT.O) Email services were also used by many Afghan government agencies, including the foreign ministry and the presidency. However, it is not clear what steps the software firm will take to prevent the data from falling into the hands of the Taliban.
Microsoft declined the comment.
Anderson said the Taliban’s attempt to control US-made digital infrastructure is worth watching. The intelligence from this infrastructure “can be much more valuable to a novice government than old helicopters,” he said.
Reporting by Raphael Satter; Editing by Grant McCool
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