- The New York Times reported that Taliban government officials use WhatsApp for communication.
- Sanctions barring US businesses from helping the Taliban have been in place for more than two decades.
- WhatsApp owner Meta is in an uphill battle to block its accounts to comply.
In the year Since taking over Afghanistan in 2021, Taliban government officials are turning to WhatsApp to communicate, relying on the encrypted messaging app for everything from identifying attack targets to sending official ministerial memos.
The New York Times reports that – despite their reliance on the app – officials in the newly formed extremist government are struggling to access their WhatsApp accounts and may be cut off from important communications without notice.
Taliban officials try to find solutions to access the app, such as buying new SIM cards and creating new accounts, making the cat-and-mouse game cyclical.
California-based Meta, the parent company of WhatsApp, must block users associated with the Taliban to comply with more than two decades of US sanctions against the militant group known for its links to terrorism and poor civil rights record.
“WhatsApp is very important to us – all my work depends on it,” Shir Ahmed Burhani, a police spokesman for the Taliban administration in Baghlan province, told The Times. “Without WhatsApp, all our administrative and non-administrative work would have been paralyzed.”
Representatives of both the Taliban-controlled Afghan Ministry of Interior and Ministry of Defense did not respond to The Insider’s request for comment.
The Times reported that WhatsApp identifies users associated with the Taliban by scanning group names, descriptions and group profile photos, then banning offending accounts.
Meta representatives did not immediately respond to Insider’s request for comment. It is not clear what verification META authorities need before banning a WhatsApp account with a Taliban user.
In a 2014 speech, former FBI director James Comey warned that widespread encryption – WhatsApp’s main selling point – would have “serious consequences for law enforcement and national security agencies at all levels”, promising to protect user content.
Comey has previously supported the USA Patriot Act. During 9/11, the FBI secretly allowed physical searches and wiretapping of Americans to search for criminal evidence without the need for a warrant to get a judge.
WhatsApp, in particular, has come under fire from law enforcement groups (and thanks to data privacy experts) for its standard end-to-end encryption. The app’s ties to the Taliban, despite its apparent intention to continue restricting Meta accounts, have raised questions about how social media companies with encrypted content will deal with users who break the law.
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