Data Privacy and respect is at the center of Afghan Evac Effort

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Afgahns fleeing Afghanistan

The Fall of Kabul

When Kabul fell to the Taliban on 15 August, it sent a shiver down my spine. I had served in Afghanistan for a year while I was in the Air Force as a leader of a combat advisor team. I got to know and interact with hundreds of Afghans and become close with my interpreters and some Afghan soldiers. Although my interpreters were safe and sound in the US, their families are in Kabul and fearing for their lives.

On Tuesday, a good friend introduced me to a team of extraordinary veterans and civilians that were trying to get Afghans out. Since we are still collecting personal data and interacting with Afghans in the country, I will not disclose the team name or members of the team at this time. They set up a simple address and hundreds of Afghans and Americans started to reach out. Over the next two weeks, the team would help over 300 Afghans get through the airport gates and out of the country. I wanted to help so I started to integrate a SaaS-based tech stack with integration tools and of course, Rownd to protect data privacy and allow Afghans that HAVE to disappear to have that right.

Data Privacy is life and death

One of my cases contacted me and wanted me to delete everything we have because they have to erase their entire pro-American history. They fear for their life.

Case Manager / Data specialist from the team

Data privacy was at the very center of the team’s success. The team started with and continued to have a very high-touch approach. Over 100 volunteers joined as case managers, they would take an email or a copy of a form that we created and reach out to the contact and start to get all of their data. Personal data is hard to come by and you have to create trust. The team created trust through early victories and reputation and that personal connection. We also integrated Rownd into the spreadsheets and databases we were using so any AFghan at any moment could update or turn off their data. The key here is the “delete” does not have to be forever. If they are in danger for 6 months but get out of the country, they can turn it back on. THIS IS THE FUNDAMENTAL POWER OF DATA PRIVACY. It can save lives. We did cut some corners in the name of speed, but building trust was the first step that the team took and data privacy was close behind. The amazing thing about data privacy is that it is never too late to add it and it can go back to the very first piece of data added.

Lessons learned and next steps

It was a crazy few weeks as the team grew and they did amazing work. I was privileged to just be a part of the effort and it was amazing to see the results of what happens when a bunch of people comes together to do good. It was also extremely taxing. To see thousands of letters of dread and pain come through has forever changed me and every member of this team. We stepped in when the US Government failed and now we have a “proof of life” database with thousands of Afghans on it (and more adding their personal data so they can delete it, but still have control over it into the future).

I also learned that data privacy matters and it matters to those that have the least the most. We live in a world where those at the top have the privilege of having their data hacked or stolen, they can buy credit protection and set up spam filters on their phone, but for billions, this is life and death, the difference between making it and losing everything. We have a lot to learn about data privacy and I hope everyone helps advocate for the Afghan Refugees that did get out and the thousands we hope will get out.