Digital Repression: A Global Threat

The U.S. Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) has released a National Intelligence Council (NIC) assessment, Digital Repression Growing Globally, Threatening Freedoms [redacted], detailing how various foreign governments have utilized digital technology for political repression. Some governments not only dismantle domestic political discourse, but also intervene with external discourse. The main goal of these disruptions being to either maintain the status quo or amass even more political support. Government utilize new and emerging technologies in a variety of concerning ways to accomplish such goals. Some of these problematic methods include “censorship, misinformation and disinformation, mass surveillance, and invasive spyware.” AI (artificial intelligence) generated deepfakes have also been deployed to manipulate public perceptions.

While these tactics can be very effective, they are not impervious to work-arounds. Tools such as virtual private networks, the onion router, mesh networks, edited images and videos, and careful word alterations can allow for blocked or mediated content to slip through. However, the projected growth of the global surveillance market alone indicates that issues surrounding government suppression via technology will remain highly concerning. To complicate matters legislation has not kept up with technological advancement. According to the assessment, “[n]o country in the world currently has a legally binding mechanism to govern AI use and most liberal democracies still are working to determine appropriate regulations for social media corporations and conduct.”

For more information, check out ODNI’s National Intelligence Assessment Press Release or visit the HSDL’s In Focus topics on Artificial IntelligenceCyber Infrastructure ProtectionCyber Policy, Disinformation, and Election Security.

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