Surveillance by the State – Data Collection and Human Rights?

The recent uprising and overtaking of the Afghanistan government by the Taliban has caused human right concerns to be pushed to the forefront of the world’s eyes and mind.. Data collection and storage may have devastating consequences for the citizens of Afghanistan.

Following Donald Trump’s deal with Taliban officials, Joe Biden still plans to withdraw all American Troops by 31 August with the UK aiming to remove troops but with no fixed date to help prevent a “humanitarian crisis”.[1] The Taliban has suggested the data will be held for the aim of reducing voter and welfare fraud with new surveillance measures due to be implemented, including, digital identity cards for Afghan citizens and the use of biometric information – fingerprinting, iris scans and facial recognition; these potentially supporting Edward Snowden’s 2013 suggestion that surveillance is a mere “keystroke away from totalitarianism”.[2]

Protecting Afghan Citizens:

Human Rights First – a human rights charity – has released a guide of how to avoid the misuse of biometric data and erasing your digital footprint for Afghan citizens;[3] this could be critical for survival, with some individuals now being persecuted for posting anti-Taliban content.[4]

The Human Rights Argument:

This, however is not an alien technology. Traditionally viewed ‘democratic’ societies like the US or UK use these forms of surveillance to protect their own citizens, but to what extent should this power be allowed to exist?

Subject to Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights, as  expressed in the Human Rights Act 1998,[5] is that

“Everyone has the right to respect for his private and family life, his home or his correspondence.”

This right is not to be interfered with by the state, however, there are the lawful excuses of necessity for reasons of “national security” and “public safety” amongst others. But how can a matter of public safety be accurately defined? In a democratic society the technologies may be used to prevent extremism or potential terror threats. In Afghanistan the same measures are being used to hunt-down citizens who do not promote the same values as the Taliban –which leads to the question could the same argument be used? Taliban officials may view Western ideals of democracy as a threat national security, therefore their actions would be justified as they were acting “for the prevention of disorder and crime”.


In the paperless age, we all should become more concerned with how governments are handling our data. Gone are the days of in-person destruction of files, with more advanced systems required to ensure data is adequately protected. Remote data destruction is a necessity so that devices are no longer accessible to those who would misuse private information. As the coalition forces withdraw from Afghanistan, these protections should have been enforced to prevent the theft of data leading to potential loss of life.

[1] Faulker, ‘Afghanistan: PM to press Biden to delay Kabul withdrawal’ [Accessed: 23 August 2021]

[2] Naughton, “Beware state surveillance of your lives – governments can change for the worse” Beware state surveillance of your lives – governments can change for the worse | John Naughton | The Guardian [Accessed: 23 August 2021].

[3] Human Rights First, [Accessed: 23 August 2021].

[4] Lockhurst, “Taliban ‘carrying out door-to-door manhunt’” [Accessed: 23 August 2021].

[5] Human Rights Act 1998, Schedule 1: The Articles.

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