Last updated August 31, 2021
As the Taliban seizes control of Afghanistan and citizens try to flee, there’s much uncertainty about the country’s future. Journalists, activists, and civil society, especially women, are facing threats, like being tracked, surveilled, questioned, and detained. To those standing up for human rights and to the communities who support them, we are with you. As the crisis continues to escalate, here are resources to help improve your online safety in Afghanistan.
General digital security tips
If you are in Afghanistan, to build online safety, determine what threats you face and which of your online activities might put you at risk — your threat model. This first look at digital security can help you get started in answering those questions. When thinking about risks, please keep the following in mind:
- Make a plan for the possibility that you or someone you know could be detained by authorities. Take a look at this guide by RaReNet and CiviCERT — which includes digital security precautions — for more.
- Be prepared that authorities could force you to unlock your device. Minimize the data you save on your devices, especially on mobile ones. (Tips below on how to delete content and accounts.)
- If you are a woman, you may face unique digital security threats. Check out this guide from the Digital Rights Foundation for tips; they also provide services in Pashto. There is also an online safety guide for women facing abuse by Chayn in several languages below.
- Require passwords to unlock your phone and computer, and enable full-disk encryption. Turn the device off if left unattended and when going through a security check-in.
- Use an end-to-end encrypted messaging app, like Signal, to text; and enable disappearing messages.
- Check the security settings on your accounts. See whether you have missed any important action items, and set up security alerts.
How to delete your digital history or minimize your online footprint
It’s uncertain if and to what extent Taliban forces are currently surveilling people, notably human rights defenders and journalists, online. The situation is developing quickly, and it could be helpful to delete online information that may hurt your online safety in Afghanistan. Below is guidance from WIRED and Human Rights First (Farsi version here).
- Be careful about giving personal information to third-party services.
- Some platforms have data retention policies that archive accounts for law enforcement.
- Your deleted data may still be retained locally on your laptop or phone.
- Make a list of what content and accounts you want to delete. Google your own name to see what information is publicly available.
- How to delete select content, like photos and posts:
- Facebook (To archive or permanently delete posts or photos, go to Activity Log.)
- Google Search
- Wikipedia: If you find information on Wikipedia or other Wikimedia projects that could cause harm to you or other people in Afghanistan, please email [email protected] and put AFG in the subject line.
- How to delete entire accounts
- Facebook (How to lock down your account — Accounts in Afghanistan should also see a prompt to “hibernate” in settings. You can recover the account for identity purposes later on.)
- LinkedIn (How to hibernate your account)
- Google – Additionally, request to delete cached Google results here.
This “self-doxing” guide might also be useful for understanding how much information about you is publicly available and minimizing things that can put you at risk, especially for activists who are detained and questioned about their views. You could be newly targeted for things you’ve posted, or based on your networks.
Evading the misuse of your biometric data
The Taliban can now likely access various biometric databases and equipment in Afghanistan, including some left behind by military forces. This technology is likely to include access to a database with fingerprints and iris scans, and include facial recognition technology.
Overall, it is very difficult to avoid recognition based on biometric data, but the following fact sheets outline some advice.
How to help protect yourself from surveillance
Start by answering these questions:
- What do I want to protect?
- Who do I want to protect it from?
- How bad are the consequences if I fail?
- How likely is it that I will need to protect it?
- How much trouble am I willing to go through to try to prevent potential consequences?
How to secure your mobile device
Any device that is turned on and unlocked has no protection. You can be forced to open and unlock a device. While useful, biometrics (face unlock, fingerprint unlock) can also be used against your will. That’s why it’s important to carry little information on your device and use automated techniques like disappearing messages.
- Make your phone password as long as possible.
- Make sure the device is encrypted. (Android only, iOS is encrypted by default.)
- Delete or rename sensitive contacts.
- Delete old, sensitive conversations.
- Set messaging apps to auto-delete messages
- Adjust auto-lock time in settings
- Review “emergency SOS” settings (iOS and Android)
How to encrypt your computer
Encryption helps make your devices more secure, and provides a shield against anyone trying to access your information. Apple computers are encrypted by default (but make sure you have the latest iOS installed).
Steps to encrypt Windows computers:
- Open Settings.
- Click on “Update & Security.”
- Click on “Device encryption.” If this isn’t available, then your device likely doesn’t support encryption.
- Under the “Device encryption” section, click “Turn on.”
- Restart your computer.
What to do if you lost your device
If that happens, it’s important to act quickly to lessen the risk of someone else accessing your accounts, contacts, and personal information.
Check out this Digital First Aid guide to learn how to assess your risk, and what to do next.
How to recover your account
Most social media platforms, email services, and other sites have resources to help you recover your account. Major platforms also typically have ways to report any unusual account activities. We’ve listed several guides below.
How to prepare for internet shutdowns
Some users have reported various site and social media blockings. This short guide can help you prepare for internet censorship and shutdowns.
Need urgent digital security help?
If you are a journalist, activist, or civil society member who needs emergency assistance, Access Now’s Helpline provides 24/7 digital security support. Please note: The Helpline team does not speak local Afghan languages.
- Afghan media wanting to leave if you’re not getting help from embassies, contact [email protected]
- Front Line Defenders (FLD) Digital Protection Team: [email protected]
- Digital Rights Foundation: [email protected]