The Internet has become a tool of authoritarian repression

The internet was supposed to set us free. Yet over the past two decades, authoritarian regimes have adopted long-term tactics to quickly retain control of the captive population, benefiting the social system and much more. Have equally handed over new tools to anti-democratic dictators to more effectively remove dissent through use To their people

“In 2019 alone, we disrupted 1,706 days of Internet access and saw 213 Internet shutdowns in 33 different countries,” said Mira Hilan, director of democracy and technology at the National Democratic Institute, during a recent SXSW 2021 panel discussion.

“These network shutdowns often occur in the vicinity of protests, in the run-up to elections – especially flawed – as well as during police violence where images of police intellectually preventing a peaceful protest by the authorities are not only disseminated to their citizens, but to people all over the world.” Director of Democracy Adrian Shahbaz said during the panel.

“People are losing access only to things like social media, but often when they are out of the internet they can’t go to ATMs, they can’t access educational materials or even certain phone or television services. Online banks will lose the ability to operate, merchants will lose the ability to communicate with their customers and suppliers, ”he said. “You name it, it affects every industry.”

Authoritarian governments traditionally rely on restricting the flow of information, both external and internal, to maintain control over their citizens – and so on. In 2000, for example, China’s dictatorship established the “Cyber ​​Sovereignty Policy”, essentially dubbing state control over the Internet. Which formally sought to increase the effectiveness and responsiveness of his national police force. That initial program has finally metastasized to what is known as “what”, “Country-level breaks between domestic and international web traffic with CCP sensors in full control of what Chinese citizens can access online information. “They have all sorts of laws and technological frameworks to scrub the internet, which can be considered sensitive, so that people can think independently about the Chinese Communist Party or how things should work out,” Shahbaz said. Of course, numerous online tools exist that enable Chinese citizens to resist their government’s censorship policies.

Stringer / Reuters

For example, in the period And until June 3, 2019, July 9, 2019, authorities demanding civilian rule disable the “access point name,” or APN, on mobile data networks – effectively shutting down Internet access for the people of Sudan. Researchers estimate that the Internet shutdown will cost about ১ 1 billion, or about 1 percent of the country’s GDP, Shahbaz said.

“I think whether we have the presence of the Internet or not, we have seen throughout history, again and again, that dictators are ready to put their will and power over all other aspects for the good of their society and their citizens,” said Open Technology Fund. President Laura Cunningham added: “We’re just seeing the same pattern in the digital age now.” This tactic is also reflected in the recent military coup in Myanmar, where the country’s military junta shut down Facebook, which accounts for about 40 percent of the country’s population. – Steamy relies on news services in an effort to protest.

The ongoing COVID epidemic has further exposed these practices around the world. For example, a group called Chinese Human Rights Defenders recorded that about 900 people were punished for sharing innocent content related to COVID-19 in just the first six months of the crisis. We have also seen an expansion of tracking technology under COVID-19 communication tracing.

Many countries, including China, Russia and Iran, are now trying to expand their liberal policies to a global network, happy with domestic efforts to redesign the Internet into their authoritarian images. This includes everything from banning VPNs to censorship websites and emerging surveillance technology to monitoring and suppressing minority groups outside national borders. Until the Trump administration, both the United States government and NGOs have traditionally pushed for the fight against such democratic opponents.

Journalists and their sources are also regularly identified and targeted by repressive authorities , Direct killing targets. Cunningham said during the panning, “I think it’s true that the risks the world is taking every day, literally helping to put their lives at risk,” Cunningham said. “Especially in the case of many female journalists, it’s too much.”

I think the technologies are making them [efforts] Even more complex and more difficult, “he continued.” Many of the countries we’re talking about as journalists are just headlines that will put you under intense scrutiny and most likely under surveillance. ” Homes can be involved in electronic camps, malware and spyware attacks, as well as both online harassment and stacking.

Nepali journalists and photojournalists light candles to pay their respects to the journalists killed in the Kabul attack in Kathmandu, Nepal on Wednesday, May 22, 2011.  The event was jointly organized by Photojournalist Club Nepal and the Federation of Nepali Journalists (FNJ).  (Photo by Narayan Maharjan / Getty Images via Nurphoto)

Nurphoto through Getty Images

“You need to communicate with the sources when writing the story,” Cunningham noted. “Most of these sources are probably in a very sensitive situation themselves and you are now putting yourself in a place where you not only have to communicate with them, but you are also responsible for protecting their privacy. “For example, it is important to use and maintain secure online communication technology. Otherwise, you are exposing not only yourself, but also other vulnerable individuals and groups in the process.”

Even information gathered from these weak sources can attract unsolicited attention from an authoritarian government. “We think about it from a technical point of view – like a honeypot.” Cunningham explained. “You have this information and it is going to be a potential target for your government … The information needs to be protected not only for your story, but also for the information you have or the information that affects it. ”

Even if a journalist succeeds in collecting this information, creating an article and attempting to publish it, their government may still lag behind – censoring the post itself or knocking the outlet’s entire website offline. Personal retaliation also takes the form of common, often arrests, seizure of property and equipment, assault or murder. Cunningham lamented that hearing these stories now “has become a huge challenge in the digital age when most people rely on the internet or mobile technology to access news and information”

She continued, “I find it horrifying to see so many female journalists reporting horrific human rights violations and publishing astonishing investigative journalism, only to be harassed online by government trolls or private actors.” “We see female journalists who are being personally attacked and threatened for what they are doing.”

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