With the crisis unfolding in Afghanistan, the internet will have a huge role to play in the country's future. There is reason to believe that it may become a tool of oppression in the hands of the Taliban, facilitating mass surveillance. So what's next for Afghanistan? And will people still be able to go online safely?
After a 20 year conflict, The Taliban have taken control of Afghanistan. Western troops are withdrawing from the country, and a new regime is in power.
At the time of writing, a great deal is still uncertain. The Taliban are claiming that they will protect human rights and issue an amnesty to all those who fought and worked against them. However, observers inside and outside the country are unconvinced. There are already reports of Taliban fighters going door-to-door, looking for former government employees.
Many things have changed since the last time the Taliban were in power. One of the major differences now is the country's widespread internet use. Could the internet become a tool of suppression and surveillance?
For years, Afghanistan has been moving towards a more digitized approach to record-keeping, voting, and general administration. This now poses a problem: the bigger an individual's digital footprint, the easier it will be for the Taliban to find and persecute them.
Interpreters, women's rights activists, former government employees, and members of the Afghan military could all be at risk, along with anyone else in a vulnerable or threatened social group. As a result, there's been a rush in recent days to remove personal data from the internet, including biometrics (fingerprints, facial information, etc).
The Taliban were using biometric databases to locate targets half a decade ago, when they weren't in power. Now, having taken control of the capital Kabul, it's likely that they'll employ similar techniques on a much larger scale.
The Taliban will now have control over Afghanistan’s internet service providers (ISPs). This will allow them to monitor people’s online activities, and restrict certain websites.
We’ve seen this many times before, following social upheaval, violent regime changes, and military coups. Limiting or even shutting down the internet completely prevents communication and free speech. It stops people from sharing news or organizing protests.
For examples of how this works in practice, we need only revisit some of the previous instances of oppressive governments shutting down internet access.
We’re still waiting to see what form restrictions will take in Afghanistan, but if the Talian follow the example of other oppressive regimes around the world, it seems very likely that internet restrictions will be imposed.
If you’re in Afghanistan, using a VPN while connected to the internet will allow you to get online with a greater level of security, and to bypass many local blocks.
If you’re going to use a VPN, however, we urge you to choose a secure, premium option. Free VPNs cannot be trusted for a secure and reliable connection. Using NordVPN, on the other hand, comes with high-quality encryption and a range of other features:
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