- The New York Times reported Taliban government officials increasingly use WhatsApp to communicate.
- Sanctions restricting US businesses from aiding the Taliban have existed for more than two decades.
- WhatsApp owner Meta is engaged in an uphill battle to block the accounts in order to comply.
Since their takeover of Afghanistan in 2021, Taliban government officials are increasingly turning to WhatsApp to communicate, relying on the encrypted messaging app for everything from identifying raid targets to sending official ministry memos.
The New York Times reported that — despite their reliance on the app — officials for the newly established radical government struggle to maintain access to their WhatsApp accounts and can be cut off from their essential communications without notice.
Taliban officials then try finding workarounds to access the app, like buying new SIM cards and creating new accounts, prompting a cyclical cat-and-mouse game.
Meta, the California-based parent company that owns WhatsApp, must ban Taliban-affiliated users in order to comply with US sanctions that have been in place for over two decades against the militant group known for its connections to terrorism and poor civil rights record.
“WhatsApp is so important to us — all my work depends on it,” Shir Ahmad Burhani, a police spokesman for the Taliban administration in Baghlan Province, told the Times. “If there were no WhatsApp, all our administrative and nonadministrative work would be paralyzed.”
Representatives for Afghanistan’s Ministry of Interior and Ministry of Defense, both controlled by the Taliban, did not immediately respond to Insider’s requests for comment.
The Times reported a spokesperson for Meta said WhatsApp identifies users associated with the Taliban by scanning group names, descriptions, and group profile photos, then blocking offending accounts.
Representatives for Meta did not immediately respond to Insider’s requests for comment. It remains unclear what proof Meta officials require that a WhatsApp account is associated with a Taliban user before blocking them.
James Comey, former director of the FBI, warned in a 2014 speech that widespread encryption — the main selling point for WhatsApp, promising to keep user content secure — would present “very serious consequences for law enforcement and national security agencies at all levels.”
Comey also previously supported the US Patriot Act, which, in the wake of 9/11, allowed the FBI to secretly conduct physical searches and wiretaps on Americans to search for evidence of crime without having to prove probable cause to a judge.
WhatsApp, in particular, has long faced criticism from law enforcement groups (and praise from data privacy experts) for its standardized end-to-end encryption. The app’s association with the Taliban, despite Meta’s apparent workaround to continue restricting accounts, has raised questions about how social media companies with encrypted content will grapple with users who violate the law.
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