Repression in the Digital Age: Surveillance, Censorship, and the Dynamics of State Violence

Repression in the Digital Age: Surveillance, Censorship, and the Dynamics of State Violence

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Leslie Johns 0:07 Hello, everyone, and welcome to   today's Burkle book talk. Before we get started,  I have a few quick announcements. First of all,   we'll be making audio and video recordings  of today's talks that you can access later   on YouTube or as podcasts through various podcasts  providers. However, the audience members cannot be   seen or heard. So we will be respecting your  privacy. We do encourage audience members to  

please submit their questions for the speaker.  You can submit your questions by using the Q&A   button which is at the bottom of your screen.  And please, when typing out your questions,   please be brief and clear so that I can read  them and understand them quickly. So today,   we're delighted to have as our guest speaker  and Anita Gohdes. Anita is a professor of   International and Cybersecurity at the Hertie  School in Berlin, Germany. She has previously  

held appointments at the University of Zurich as  well as at Harvard University. She gained her PhD   from the University of Mannheim. And in addition  to being a very accomplished academic and author,   she also serves as a field consultant for the  Human Rights Data Analysis Group. Today, we're   very excited to have her presenting material from  her first book, which is called, "Repression in   the Digital Age, Cyber Controls and State Violence  and the 21st Century." So with that, I'm happy   to welcome Dr. Anita Gohdes. Anita, please come  join me. All right, I'm gonna go ahead and turn  

things over to you so that you can present your  really exciting research to our audience today. Anita Gohdes 2:02 Thank you so much, Leslie,   thank you so much for having me. It's a delight  and an honor to be here, and I'm really excited to   be presenting my book work; the culmination of now  more than a decade of work on repression in the   digital age. I'll just take the next 20 minutes  or so to present some of the key findings to you,   and I'm really excited to hear your questions and  comments and suggestions for future work. And if  

you want to get in touch to talk about this more,  feel free to send me an email, I'm always happy to   hear about your work, especially if you're a grad  student. So I'll start off now, and what I like to   start out with here is kind of a motivating slides  to kind of orient us where this all started out.   What you can see here are the average share of  individuals who use the internet and the graph   starts in 1990, and goes all the way through to  2017. And this is really a time period where we   see a lot of movement in terms of how many people  are actually able to access the internet. Now what   I did here was actually disaggregate those  numbers by what we might call regime type or   by political institutions in the country. And  you can quite clearly see that up until about  

the mid 2000s-2010s, the majority of people who  will online we're living in liberal democracies,   and then from the mid 2000s onwards,  especially kind of exploding after 2010,   we see that other countries are catching up.  So we see a real exponential increase in the   number or the proportion of people who are able  to access the internet in electoral autocracies,   closed autocracies, electoral democracies, this  is the the VDM categorization. But you know,   regardless of which one we look at, we really see  that there's a kind of catching up effect. And if   you remember, if you kind of go back in your  head 10-15 years ago, there was a real strong   sense that the Internet would help with democratic  processes, would help marginalize voices mobilize   and ultimately we'd see a positive effect on  society. Now that has changed a little bit,  

but this is kind of the - some of the the kind  of rhetoric and discourse that we had around the   introduction and the expansion explosion, frankly,  of the internet. Now, the thing that interested me   in this project was looking at these looking at  these kinds of developments over time, what is   actually going on there? And how can we explain  that countries that aren't really interested in   democratizing might be kind of getting more and  more people online. And one of the things I kept   coming back to was the fact that governments are  ultimately the ones who still remain, or over this   time period really, remained in control of digital  infrastructure. And this picture I show you here   is now almost 10 years old. It's from the umbrella  protests in Hong Kong in September 2014. And since   it's kind of difficult to show in a picture what  the internet looks like, I think this is a really   nice representation of what it means when citizens  are mobilizing against government policies or the   government per se, but they're still dependent on  some of the infrastructure that's been provided   by the country, by the state, to actually be  able to mobilize. Here we see electricity,   but of course, the same goes for the internet.  And one of the things that's been going on in  

this time period is that online surveillance  and censorship technology has proliferated,   and it's particularly proliferated in repressive  countries. The thing that I was interested in was   knowing what do these new what we might call cyber  controls actually do? How do they play into states   broader repressive strategies? And so what I tried  to do in this book was bring some new theoretical   ideas, of course, building on a lot of research  on the role of information in autocratic regimes   in repression. But to think how those types of  questions can be answered with some new theory,   and then a lot of evidence, quantitative  evidence from different types of contexts,   to look at how cyber controls actually  affect traditional forms of repression. Now,   I'm talking about cyber controls. It's a big  lofty word, let's kind of break down what I   mean by them. I'm specifically looking at  two types of cyber controls here. One are   things that we might call online surveillance,  it includes mass surveillance, but it also   includes targeted surveillance, so intercepting  people's phones, monitoring what they do online,   monitoring the communication, but also monitoring  their metadata. And then at the other extreme,  

we have online censorship. So the restriction,  the blocking of access and of information,   but throttling, and ultimately we see full  shutdowns of the internet also being kind   of a most extreme form of censorship. And so I'm  really looking at what happens when when states   incorporate surveillance and censorship into  their repressive responses to political threats   that they face. The way that I think about it very  quickly speaking, theoretically, is that we should  

see some kind of relationship between online  and offline responses to political threats. Now,   when governments up to focus on online  surveillance, so extracting information about   what people write online, what where people are  online who are in their phone books, for example,   one of the prerequisites to be able to do that is  actually to provide people internet access, right.   So when we kind of see an expansion of internet  accessibility, with it also comes an expansion   of new forms of being able to gather information  of what's happening online. Now, theoretically,   what we might expect is that an increase in online  surveillance and increase online accessibility   can provide new actionable intelligence that can  actually enable more targeted forms of violence,   right. So violence that is aimed at specific  individuals, specific groups based on something   that they've done, or potentially specific  identities that they have. At the other extreme,  

we have online censorship. Now online censorship  limits access to intelligence. When you shut   down your ability to collect information,  you're actually limiting the the quality   of information that you have. But it actually can  help restrict communication for opposition groups,   for protest movements, for ethnic minorities  that might be trying to mobilize against the   repressive regime that can hinder collective  organization, can deplete opposition capabilities,   because we now know especially that social media  is really important to also recruit people online   to gain financial independence, and so on. And  ultimately, I expect that where governments   engage in more extreme forms of censorship, we're  more likely to see indiscriminate repression. The   reason why I think it's really important to study  this is because we've seen that some of the policy   responses towards how to, for example, deal with  hate speech online, and how to deal with some of   the negative repercussions of people mobilizing  online, should be, you know, limiting access to   the internet. And what I theoretically expect, and  that's ultimately also what I test in the book,   is that we should see that censorship doesn't  actually help with those things, but actually is a   facilitator for more violence. So that's something  I'm trying to empirically assess here as well.

Now, in the book, I tried to present data and  evidence from different types of contexts,   using different types of data, different levels  of aggregation. Most of the analyses that I   present are quantitative, but I also include some  qualitative evidence to get at some of the nuances   of how internet shutdowns might affect repression.  I have a number of studies that focus on cyber   controls and repression in Syria. Why Syria? Syria  was one of the first we might call them socially   mediated conflicts. So social media was a central  component to mobilization of the opposition,   but also very, very quickly became a key form  of control for the Syrian regime and associated   pro government groups. And so one of the things I  studied there is the role of nationwide internet  

shutdowns. And the way they were used in  conjunction with mass repression. And then I   also look at regional Internet accessibility,  to understand how the opportunities online   surveillance affect the ability to engage in  targeted forms of violence. Then I look at   the dynamics of repression during one specific  internet shutdown in Iran. And here, I actually   worked with the Amnesty Iran team and the Amnesty  tech team to kind of bring the number one benefit   of their incredible work, and try and understand  together with them, what the role of the shutdown   actually was, in the, in the government crackdown  against the protest. To kind of get some,   as we might call it, external validity, to kind of  understand if this also plays out when we do look   at it in the global comparative way, I collected  new data on internet shutdowns cross-nationally to   look at how those correlate with state repression  more broadly. And I'll give you just a very brief  

kind of run through of those of those results. But  I'm happy to talk about more of them, and also the   data and the difficulties and so on in the in the  Q&A. Now, in Syria, again, as I said, the Syrian   case is an interesting one for us, because the  the level of control that the Syrian government   has over internet infrastructure there, and  especially at the beginning of the conflict is,   is very, very high. And so it's quite easy for  us to infer that when internet shutdowns occur,   the government is, is behind them. And we  have a lot of evidence from, from very,  

very courageous members of civil society in Syria,  who collected evidence of spyware being used,   off the shelf spyware being used, but also kind of  home built or coded by were being used. And so we   have quite strong evidence that when the internet  was shut– wasn't shut down, when it was available,   that the government was engaging in all different  types of surveillance. So what I do here is I   collected new data, this was together with the  Human Rights Data Analysis Group. And I analyzed   about 60,000 killings that were associated  with the Syrian regime and associated pro   government groups. In order to understand how  different levels of internet accessibility,   ultimately are associated with different types  of killings that we that we see. I use supervised  

text analysis here to determine the circumstances  of killing so that we can actually distinguish   what the reason was that someone was being killed,  which is something that's actually quite unusual,   in that we're able to do it at at that level of  granularity. What you can see here on the graph,   just as kind of an overview is that the level of  internet accessibility varied very strongly across   the time period that I studied. So we have a lot  of variation here, in the degree to which people   were able to access the internet. The first  big result here is that online surveillance,   so the availability of online internet, goes hand  in hand is strongly associated with an increase   in targeted violence. And because I also collect  data on armed group presents, I'm able to look   at other types of covariates that might influence  the degree to which people are able to, to access   or the pro government groups were able to access  information. And so the second big result here  

is that we find a more pronounced effect where  traditional forms of information gathering are   not available or less effective. So to put it  to put it very, very frankly, where is online   surveillance useful? For a government, it is where  they usually don't have access to the internet,   because they don't have troops on the ground,  because they don't have co ethnics that are loyal   towards them. And so this is where, where, where  the information provided by online surveillance   kind of adds something new qualitatively speaking.  Now, if we briefly look at the Iranian case here,  

I was interested in the nationwide shutdown and  how that affected mass repression. I'll just jog   your memory what happened in November 2019. On the  14th of November, we had a 200% increase in the   price of petrol, which sparked widespread protests  across Iran. And then within less than 48 hours,   the regime engaged in a full shutdown of the  worldwide web. Now importantly, here, what   that meant was that the country was shut off from  the outside web. The national so called intranet  

still remained intact. But you can see here on  the on the graph that ultimately it was very,   very difficult to get any information outside of  the country once the full shutdown occurred. And   what we were able to document is that the shutdown  coincided and was timed with mass repression by   the security and paramilitary forces, and extreme  violence that indicated a shoot to kill strategy.   1000s were arrested and detained, and the shift  in the, the repressive strategy was not just   quantitative. It was also qualitative, we saw a  move towards silencing relatives and friends of   victims, pressuring them not to draw attention.  At the same time, state media engaged in very,  

very strong propaganda campaigns against the  protesters. We saw confiscation of mobile   devices so that when people had, for example,  filmed, repression occurring at protests,   they weren't able to share it online. But they  also couldn't share it afterwards, because their   mobile phones were confiscated. And many experts  estimated that there was about a 24 hour time lag   in international reporting. And what you can see  at the bottom here was the number of videos at an  

hourly level that were collected by the network  of people in Iran who were working together with   the Amnesty team. And you can see that the, just  the quantity of information that left the country   also, also, once the Internet came back on was  just qualitatively much less. So we find not just   a quantitative but also qualitative change in the  type of repression that coincides with internet   shutdowns. Now, what's interesting in the Iranian  case, and I'll just say this, because it there's   some, I think there's some really important  follow up work that can be done here is, what   happens when the internet comes back down. We know  that circumvention tools are very, very popular in   Iran. And if we look here, just at the daily users  who use Tor, which is censorship evasion software,   but also a software that allows people to browse  the internet anonymously. And we see that there's  

an increase in the number of Tor users in the  aftermath of the shutdown. And so this is an   indication that shutdowns can actually trigger an  increased incentive within populations to evade   censorship. And that is something of course, even  if the actual shutdown is quote unquote successful   in repressing the protest, the long term effects  can can be negative for the regime. Now briefly,   just say something about the global analysis,  because it's interesting to look at this from   from a kind of global perspective as well. Here,  I collected new data. And I'm really, so delighted   that there is now the Internet Outage Detection  Analysis project by, by CAIDA. And they've been   collecting incredible data on network measurements  that allow us to actually have a network-based   data on internet shutdowns. What you can see  here is roughly what they're, what the interface  

looks like to actually detect these outages. So  there are three different measures to kind of,   that trace network activity. And you can see  here, for the internet outage in Gabon in 2019,   what a shutdown would look like. So that actually  allows us to detect these shutdowns forensically  

speaking. What I, what I find here when I compare  just cross nationally speaking, internet shutdowns   over a time period of three years, is that  countries that implement intense shutdowns   are significantly more likely to engage in more  extreme violent forms of repression than other   countries, when controlling for all of the kinds  of most important indicators that we know that   effect political repression. So this idea that  shutdown somehow help quell violence is something   that we just have no support for, either at the  global level, nor at the individual country level.

So some of the key takeaways here for  me: I think cyber controls, we can say,   have transformed traditional forms of  surveillance and censorship. In the book,   I talk a lot about how online surveillance and  online censorship differ from traditional forms of   surveillance and censorship, with all of the kinds  of positives and negatives that come with it. And   importantly, they don't act as a replacement or  a substitution of violent repression, something   that is oftentimes kind of being thrown around  in policy circles. This idea of well, you know,   if governments are now mostly focusing on the  online sphere, then maybe we might see less,   quote unquote, bad things happening offline. And  I find very little evidence for that. In fact,  

most of the countries that engage in or have  for a long time engaged in violence repression   will include different forms of cyber controls in  their broader repressive strategies. And so these   cyber controls become a supportive part, not a  substitute for, for state repression. I think   if we think about this from a kind of broad  question of who does this help, who doesn't   that help? My overall takeaway after studying  this now for the last 10 years or so, is that   at the moment that the technology is tipping the  balance of power in favor of repressive regimes,   because it provides ways to access previously  hard to reach sectors of society. And so,   because digital infrastructure is so, so important  and so relevant, and oftentimes remains largely in   the control of state actors, it can have this  really detrimental effect to social movements,   civil society, actors, journalists, minorities,  sexual minorities, as well, in a whole host of   different societies. I think the broader  implications are very clear when it comes   to digital infrastructure. Having access to the  internet is not neutral. So when we think about   the expansion of digital infrastructure, when  we think about who gets to build infrastructure,   and who provides infrastructure, these are things  that are highly political, and that we should be   thinking about from a political perspective  as well. The implications are, of course,  

clear for international trade, I'm based in the  European Union, the EU has talked a lot about   this. But ultimately, there's still a lot to be  done in terms of thinking about exporting spyware,   other types of interception software. And then we  have to think about how this affects activists,   human rights defenders in the ways that they  can actually exercise their civil rights.  

So I think there are a lot of implications  here, and I'd be happy to talk to you more   about them in the Q&A. And with that, thank  you very much. I look forward to questions. Leslie Johns 21:31 Okay, thank you so much,   very stimulating presentation to go along  with very stimulating book. So as a reminder,   to everyone in the audience, please feel  free to submit your questions for Anita   using the Q&A button at the bottom of your  screen. Before I dive into the audience Q&A,   though, I do get to ask a couple questions of my  own. So, I wanted to start with a question that   I oftentimes get from graduate students, which  is like, how did you come up with this topic?   Because I think that this is a great example of  a topic Anita, in the sense that it really taps   into an important issue in the world, it's novel,  but I think it also taps into like big political   science questions, right? Which is about like,  the role of the state, the role of violence,   human rights, it taps into so many different  important conceptual questions. So how did  

this come to you as a young researcher,  can you tell us a little bit about that? Anita Gohdes 22:38 Yeah, absolutely. First of all,   biggest thank you to my advisor, who allowed me  to switch my topic three times during my PhD. Leslie Johns 22:46 Really? Wow. that's for people to   know, like, you don't always, you know, hit it  out of the ballpark on your first time. Right. Anita Gohdes 22:54 Exactly, yeah. So   so she was very patient with me. And,  and let me switch my topic, which was,  

which was great. I was originally working on the  the dynamics of what the, you know, the, the,   the kind of dynamics of violence and civil war,  civilian victimization. And it was actually my   work with the Human Rights Data Analysis Group  that alerted me to the role that the internet   was playing for documentation groups. So what I  didn't talk about much in the in the presentation,   but I talk about in the book is that all of the  data that I use in the analysis on, on state   repression in Syria, is collected by incredible  human rights documentation groups, based in Syria.   And so we started working with these groups with  Human Rights Data Analysis Group back in 2012. And   this was work that was commissioned by the UN  Human Rights Office. And so we were in contact  

with these documentation groups, and they were  telling us, you know, we can, you know, they were   providing us with extremely high quality data on  what was happening. And the reason why they were   able to do that was because they had Skype, at  the time, if you still remember Skype. Skype was,   you know, back in 2012 Yeah. And so these, you  know, these, these colleagues that we work with,   were telling us, you know, we have a couple of  1000 Skype contacts and our Skype lists, and they   provide us with the newest information, including  pictures and real details and videos, you know,   to make sure that these aren't just fabricated  incidences. But then the internet will will go  

off, right, like, the government will shut down  the internet. And, and actually, those discussions   prompted me to thinking about, you know, the role  of digital technology in their work, and then I   wanted to know, well, how does it actually affect  the repressive strategies of the, of the regime? Leslie Johns 24:48 Yeah, so it was kind   of solving a practical problem,  right, which is that like the,   the information that was coming through  was coming through selectively, right. Anita Gohdes 24:57 Yeah, exactly. Yeah. Leslie Johns 24:59 So you know, the image that I had in mind,   as I was reading the book was, you know, I was  thinking about, like, you had this big bully with   a baseball bat, which, like the government, and  like, it could decide when to turn off the lights,   right. And like when when it turned off  the lights, you couldn't see what was   going on. Right? That was kind of like what I was  thinking about. And so as I was reading the book,  

I then started thinking about, well, you know,  sometimes, you know, as you were talking about,   in these specific cases, right, the government  can turn off the internet, but like in a lot of,   in some other conflicts, like in Myanmar, and  like, for thinking about, like the Ukraine war,   like, we know that private companies like  Starlink, or like Facebook in Myamar, have   played a really big role in terms of transmitting  information. And I remember there was an article   about Elon Musk talking about how Ukraine  was trying to send, was it like a missile or   something into Crimea? And he turned off Starlink,  because he didn't want the missile to hit Crimea,   because he was like, Oh, that's not fair  that the missile was going to hit Crimea,   I forget the exact details of the story. And  so I guess, I was wondering, this is outside   of the context of the book, obviously. But  like, what if it's not the government flipping  

the switch? Right? What if it's Elon Musk, or  some private business person? And, you know,   how do you think that would sort of tease out your  story, if it's private businesses or industries   that are deciding when that's, when the switch  gets flipped? thought a little bit about that? Anita Gohdes 26:42 Yeah, definitely. And I think,   I think it really gets to this question of  what we understand infrastructure to be and   I learned a lot reading the kind of, you know,  political, like mainstream political science,   literature on state capacity, right, like, what  does that mean? And, and I think we really have to   think about Facebook, in Myanmar, or Starlink to  a certain extent, but certainly things like Google   and and social media companies more broadly  as infrastructure, right. So when you have,   you know, survey after survey showing that certain  countries equate Facebook with the internet,   that makes Facebook infrastructure, right,  and so when you shut down that infrastructure,   you're shutting down the internet. And so I  think, I think the, the incentives are different  

to a certain extent. And for a long time, we  kind of had the mantra, or, you know, the,   the broad kind of understanding that especially  Western companies would be interested in kind of   maintaining an open internet and, you know,  adhering to certain values and so on. And,   and in the last couple of years, we've really  seen a move away from that. And part of that   has to do with the fact that these companies have  become more powerful than the the governments that   they are, you know, dealing with. So I think I  think we really have to theorize about, you know,   I think there's a lot of a lot of PhD theses  to be written about, you know, that the role   of these these social media companies as  infrastructure, as states as quasi-states. Leslie Johns 28:12 Yeah. I mean, there's certainly  

been a ton of effort, like trying to make sure  that Starlink doesn't provide internet to Gaza,   right, for example, because otherwise that's  going to interfere with military operations,   by the, by the IDF. One last thing I just have  to ask you about, and feel free to just say,   I don't know, but, you know, here in the US,  we obviously have an election coming up. On the   news today. I don't know if you know about this,  but all of the leaders of the main social media  

companies like TikTok, Facebook, or I guess it's  Meto now, it's not Facebook anymore. You know,   they're all lined up before Congress,  right now. It's on TV, talking about like,   you know, their user policies. Now they're being  grilled about children, but obviously, you know,   there's a big fear about are they going to be  used to spread misinformation. And your book,   obviously, is really focused about repression  and autocracies, but I was wondering if,   if you had thought at all about sort of the  implications of your argument for democracies,   right, and the way misinformation  spreads within democracies? Anita Gohdes 29:27 Yeah, you know, I think,   I know, quite clearly kind of where the limits of   my knowledge are on that. So I'll try  and kind of stay within the realm of

Leslie Johns 29:38 Yeah, I don't want to   like, push you to go too far off. Anita Gohdes 29:41 But I think it's such an important   question. And you know, my first, my first sense,  especially, coming from a semester, where I taught   students from across the world is, in a sense,  it's such a privilege that these companies are   sitting down and talking to policymakers in the  US because it's the only country where you know,   this type of effort is being made to counter  disinformation in the context of elections.   When I think about, you know, two dozen other  countries that have elections right now, where,   you know, there's very little interest in in  preventing misinformation. So I think that's,   you know, that's a good sign, even if it's  happening in the context of child protection,   which I'm not sure doesn't seem  like the right context me, but Leslie Johns 30:24 They're worried about   child trafficking stuff like that. Right.  But it's not about misinformation today,  

but Congress is definitely  worried about misinformation. Yeah Anita Gohdes 30:33 Yeah, but I think,   I think it's also really important that it's  happening in the context of the US because it's,   you know, for all of us, it's such an important  election, but what's going to come out beyond   the US and, and again, if we think about, you  know, TikTok being the infrastructure that,   you know, most teams engage with the internet  with, if certain things happen there, when   certain things are controlled, or not shown, then  that's ultimately, you know, infecting the entire   information environment that they interact with.  So I yeah, I'm also equally worried about those Leslie Johns 31:08 Well, we will try not   to ruin the world, in the nexy, you know, six  months or whatever, I make no guarantees. So,   you know, you know, Germany will have to  come fix everything for us. So I'm gonna   turn to the Q&A from the audience. Now. My  apologies for those in the audience. So I'm   just going to kind of try to go through and  try to interpret the questions as best I can.  

How can we emphasize the importance of a free  and open internet to our representatives in the   USA? I don't know. Do you have any thoughts on  that? Or do you agree with the premise of the   question? Do you think open Internet is the most  important things? Or do you think that there are,   that there are situations in which the  internet should have some controls? Anita Gohdes 32:04 Yeah, you know, I think I that I'm now showing   my age, I, you know, I was very much socialized  at a time where we all believed in a free, a   free and open Internet, and it's still something I  haven't given up yet. I think we really have to be   careful, and I'm saying this also from a position  of Germany that has been very heavily engaged in,   you know, all these types of legislations to deal  with, you know, terrible problems that we have on   the internet. But I think we have to make sure  that we don't assume that more and more control,   and more and more kind of filtering is going  to necessarily improve our experiences online,   and also offer the types of spaces  that ultimately civil society needs,   investigative journalists need, to be able  to kind of keep our society as it is. So  

I'm still very much a believer in the value of  a, of a free and open internet, I have to say, Leslie Johns 32:59 I don't know that I completely   understand the question myself. But maybe that  just shows my ignorance. So, what types of   governments can engage in this type of repression?  So I think this is a question about the scope,   perhaps of your theory, are there certain traits  of governments that tend to use these strategies? Anita Gohdes 33:20 When it comes to internet shutdowns,   we have some, some really good evidence that  shows that the fewer internet service providers   they are, and the more internet service providers  are controlled by the government or by members of   the government, the more likely we are to see  internet shutdowns, just because it's easier   from a kind of administrative perspective to shut  down the internet. So, so absolutely, you know,   lack of diversity within the ISP sector is a very  strong indicator. When it comes to surveillance,   there is of course, this correlation with state  capacity. But what might be interesting is that   when we look at the countries that engage in  very, very kind of detailed surveillance of   the populations, it's not necessarily only the  ones that have a high percentage of people who   are online. So, the kind of example that that I  studied quite a lot when I started this work was  

Ethiopia, that already in 2014, was very strongly  engaged in various forms of online surveillance,   even though a very small proportion of the  country was online. So I'd say the scope   is broader than just, you know, the kind  of most online countries, but there is,   of course, some kind of correlation  there with state capacity as well. Leslie Johns 34:34  What kind of actions are being taken at  the international level to prevent this   type of repression? Are states acknowledging  or sanctioning this behavior when they see it? Anita Gohdes 34:47 Yes and no. So when I,  

again, when I started this work, I thought, you  know, internet shutdowns are going to be a thing   of the past soon because it's so archaic, and you  know, it's so kind of antithetical to how we live   and then conduct business online. But internet  shutdowns are increasing. And they're not only   increasing in the kind of most repressive  countries, it's oftentimes in these kinds of   electoral autocracies or illiberal democracies,  and they often times happened in the context of   elections. So I think we, you know, we need to do  much more at the international level to point out   that it's not just lack of access, it's oftentimes  comes with more extreme forms of repression. And   so there's, there's more to it than just, you  know, information shutdowns. When it comes to   surveillance, I think they're different things  being done. And these these big journalistic   reportings, you know, when things like Pegasus I  think really helped bring international attention   to, to the issues. So that's, I think those  are very positive things that are happening.

Leslie Johns 35:49 Seems like one of our   audience members knows a little bit about this  topic. And they say, What about India? Seems   to be a lot of shutdowns there, and how does that  fit in with your story about autocracy? Or do you   maybe think that India is more of an autocracy,  even though we traditionally call it a democracy? Anita Gohdes 36:06 No, I think these internet shutdowns   have been going on in India for a long time. I  think - I'm not an expert on India - but if I   hear my colleagues talk about it, I think there  are some questions about kind of some democratic   processes going on there. But I think we've seen  these internet shutdowns happen for a long time,   and they happen in a very localized way, they  oftentimes happen in the context of specific   groups in society trying to mobilize or being  seen as a threat. And so that's exactly what I   mean when I say I'm worried about kind  of internet shutdowns just becoming an   acceptable way to deal with protests, with  unrest across a whole range of countries.

Leslie Johns 36:49 Okay. One of the audience   members wrote in asking if you've done any work,  looking at censorship of specific subjects, so the   audience member is asking about the work of Gary  King, focusing on China and how China appears,   he's mentioning, I guess there's an article  in The New York Times today about how China   has been censoring financial news. And how that  might have an impact on the economy. But I know,   the book is more about just sort  of turning the internet on and off,   but maybe have you looked at this in  other parts of your research portfolio? Anita Gohdes 37:34 So I've looked at,   you know, to what extent specific websites  are being shut down? I'm a huge- with specific   websites or domains, right, because that's,  that's kind of the easiest way to get some of   those questions for us. I'm a huge fan of, you  know, Molly Roberts's work and co-authors who  

work on China specifically, and I think there  are few countries where we have that level of,   just quality of evidence about censorship, but I  think there's a lot we can learn from that case. Leslie Johns 38:05 Okay. And one of the interns at the Burkle   Center asks whether artificial intelligence plays  a role in surveillance and security operations? Anita Gohdes 38:18 Yes, and it's increasing hugely. So right now,  

I think we really need to think about the role of  AI helping kind of sift through the vast amounts   of data that comes with online surveillance. So  one of the quote unquote positives for a lot of   people in resistance movements have been that,  you know, it's difficult to just deal with that   sheer quantity of data. But when you have, you  know, various forms of data analytics that help   you sift through that, I think that's  going to become quite dangerous. Yeah. Leslie Johns 38:53 Okay. This question,  

I'm not sure if your book can get it the question,  but maybe you can address it more broadly. Do you   find governments preferring certain types  of cyber controls over others, depending   on the different political contexts, like during  elections or not versus during protests or not? Anita Gohdes 39:17 Yes, we've seen that   the preferred means of internet shutdowns,  especially during elections, have been in   certain regions. So oftentimes, it'll be  in opposition strongholds, or it'll be in   strongholds that have been known to have certain  types of unrest. And in general, local shutdowns  

just get much less press attention. So if you are  a government interested in not getting bad press,   don't implement a nationwide shutdown.  That's just not a good idea. Yeah. Leslie Johns 39:47 Is there a relationship between   state governments and the private sector in large  scale surveillance operations? I would think   there very probably has to be right like, I would,  sorry, I shouldn't answer for you. Yes. Yeah. Anita Gohdes 40:04 No, I think you're exactly   right. That's exactly- No, I think that's exactly  what we're seeing. And I think there the question  

really is, we as a society have to decide how  much do we want this to be a sector where we   see innovation happening when ultimately that  technology is being used against us? Yeah. Leslie Johns 40:29 Let's see. Sorry,   we just have so many questions. I'm like  doing my best to get through it. Are there   areas where non-state actors are the ones  controlling access to the internet? Oh,   that's a great one. For example, are there  defensive actions or new strategies that  

groups are using, maybe rebels in Syria,  to counter these actions by governments? Anita Gohdes 40:54 I think that's going to   become more and more important.  And I mean, if you think about,   I mean, clearly, when we think about  the Russian invasion of Ukraine,   this is an interstate war. But in many ways, the  response by the Ukrainian government was right, Leslie Johns 41:09 Right, which is to get Elon Musk to   give you an internet. Right. Yeah. Anita Gohdes 41:13 Exactly, reestablish,   kind of. I think there's some evidence  in Yemen that within the war there,  

both sides were trying to kind of establish,  you know, who was in charge of the internet.   And I think what's interesting, from again kind  of a state capacity, state signaling perspective,   is that whoever controls the internet  also automatically says that they have,   you know, legitimate, you know, state kind  of responsibility. So, I think there's more   than just the information control is also  saying, you know, we're the providers here,   but we've seen rebel groups really become  innovative, some have just reverted to   talking with walkie talkies, right? Or building  their own networks, mesh networks, or using   satellite technology. And I think we're going  to see much more of that happen in the future. Leslie Johns 42:05 It's kind of, not to go off topic,   but it is kind of interesting how, like, in  the last couple months in terms of thinking   about Gaza, right, how insistent, you know,  NGOs were about, you know, like we need food,   we need water, and we need internet,  right. About how it really was sort   of treated as like a human right. You know,  like, we want cell phones, we want internet,   and how it really was taken as sort of like an  idea of sort of effective control of territory   and how it really has sort of been bundled in as  sort of like a basic notion of a right. I guess  

because it's such an important way for people  to keep in touch with each other, right? Or   get access to basic information about where to  go and how to protect yourself during a war. Anita Gohdes 42:58 Yeah, and I think what's   interesting there is that we oftentimes think  about the internet as the primary cause of   misinformation. But everything we know about  areas where the internet has been shut down,   is that those are the areas where rumors just  go crazy. Right? So you know, pre-internet,   we had a lot of rumors, a lot of misinformation  going around. And so actually providing access   to the internet for people in war zones, is really  important to get, you know, accurate information. Leslie Johns 43:28 Yeah, because it's not clear that   the absence of information is better than, yeah,  exactly. Yeah. Okay. So let's see. As you know,  

we are facing, this appears to be someone who  knows you, Andrea or Andrea, as you know, we are   facing a populist wave in Europe, also in Germany.  We have elections coming up in three East German   states. I'd like to ask the what if questions,  how would the AFD deal with internet if they would   govern? For the audience, could you fill us in:  AFD? That's the far right party. Is that right? Anita Gohdes 44:18 It's the radical   right party within Germany, right. So, Leslie Johns 44:22 Just to fill us in   what does radical right mean in Germany? Anita Gohdes 44:28 So they are the, they are   probably, they're not the most right leaning  party. There are more right leaning parties.

Leslie Johns 44:34 Are they the ones who   want to kick all the migrants out? Anita Gohdes 44:37 Yes. Leslie Johns 44:38 Okay. I think I read an article about that. Okay. Anita Gohdes 44:42 I think what makes them,   and I think why this question is so pertinent,  what makes them so so so important right now   is that they're not just extremely radical  right, extremely racist in their, in their,   in their manifesto, that they have such high  support. They have a quite high percentage of   support within the German population, especially  within Eastern Germany. Judging by everything that   radical right parties have done in Germany and in  other countries, it has been to attack the press.  

And in other work I do, that's not part of this  book, I look at the specifically the targeting   of journalists in democracies. And once this norm  has been broken, that, you know, are in favor of   an independent press. Even if they, you know,  report bad things about you, it becomes very,   very dangerous to be a journalist. So judging by  what this radical right party has done, I would  

expect them to engage quite heavily in wanting  to block access to specific types of domains,   specific types of content on social media, and  probably reduce the funding of, you know, online   media outlets that report critically on them,  just judging by what other radical right parties   have done, or, you know, in general, more radical  parties have engaged with in another countries. Leslie Johns 45:57 Okay, is this the   one that recently had the court ruling  where they lost access to state funding? Anita Gohdes 46:04 This is the one that recently was embroiled   in a big secret meeting outside of Berlin where  they were talking about plans to, I don't even   want to use the word, but like, basically  kick a bunch of people out of the country. Leslie Johns 46:19 See, we're getting   a little lesson in German politics as well. Anita Gohdes 46:24 I'm really not the   right person for this. I'm, you  know, I'm just a newspaper reader.

Leslie Johns 46:29 That's all right. Yeah. No, you know far   more than me. Oh, loss of state funding was the  NPD, one of our guests wrote in. Okay. So I did   read about that, I remember. I thought that was a  really, really interesting case. Okay. Do you mind  

touching on how internet shutdowns by autocratic  regimes affect the collection of evidence in human   rights violation cases? Particularly during  times of ongoing war? That's something I'm   very interested in as well. So yeah, but you  should answer it, because you're our guest. Anita Gohdes 47:04 It's a huge problem. And   it's part of what groups such as Access  Now also fighting for, and I think,   you just mentioned Gaza, right. One of the big  reasons why people have been saying, you know,   Internet access in Gaza is so important is  so that all types of, you know, evidence can   be collected. And I think we see that there's  a huge impact, specifically, the work in Iran   showed us that it doesn't only reduce the speed  with which we get access to internet information,   but it reduces the the quality of information  that we have. And that is really important for,  

you know, accountability. But it's also important  for us as social scientists, because it threatens   our inference, when we don't have the  same quality of information, depending on,   you know, the level of information that comes  outside, the level of internet accessibility. Leslie Johns 47:53 Although does it necessarily,   it doesn't necessarily lead to  the destruction of evidence,   right? Because people can still have  things on their phones and upload it later,   no? Or is there evidence suggesting  that things really do get lost? Anita Gohdes 48:07 There is evidence. So in Iran,   we had specific evidence of mobile devices  being confiscated. So families, for example,  

would pick up their loved ones from the  hospital or from the morgue, and all the   devices will be gone. So once things aren't,  once there isn't this immediate opportunity   to upload things to the cloud, it becomes  more dangerous. And also you need, you know,   you need devices with a lot of memory space to  collect information. And if you can't upload it,   then there's a limit that you hit when you  don't have, you know, very high quality devices. Leslie Johns 48:43 So the longer the shutdown,   sort of, the more problematic  that becomes, then I imagine.

Anita Gohdes 48:49 Especially in kind of,   if it's in specific localities, where some,  you know, some shutdowns go on for months,   and then it becomes very difficult. Yeah. Okay. Leslie Johns 49:00 And it looks like this   will be our last question, and then I'll let  you go. Did you specifically look at use of   surveillance software used on smartphones, given  that in many parts of the world people's access to   the internet is through their phones; this type  of software is often surreptitiously installed   on smartphones as people walked by a given  location. Did you, were you able to sort of look   at different types of devices, or you were just  sort of looking at nationwide shutdowns, right? Anita Gohdes 49:33 I was looking at nationwide   shutdowns. But in a lot of discussions I  had with activists, I, you know, I learned   a lot about the ways in which their devices have  been affected. And the advantage, quote unquote,  

again, speaking from the perspective of a  repressive government is that your phone   doesn't only give you the information,  but it also gives you the location as the,   as the person mentioned in their question. So it's  providing new forms of high quality metadata that   are very relevant to the regime. And also, if the  two of us are in a room for a long period of time,   then there's very clear evidence that  we've spent time together. And so those  

are new forms of network structures  that just weren't available before. Leslie Johns 50:17 Well, I've never gone   through so many Q&As is during a talk, in part  because I think you were the clearest speaker   we have ever invited, we've gone through so  much material, and you've answered questions   so clearly and concisely. So thank you so  much, Anita, thank you so much to our audience,   our guests for joining us here today. Just to  let everyone in the audience know, we do have a   couple more great talks already lined up that are  announced on our Burkle webpage. Please do go feel   free to check them out. Go ahead and RSVP. We've  got some great speakers coming up. And I look   forward to seeing you all in the future. And thank  you again, Anita Gohdes, for joining us today,  

and please everyone go buy the book. It's a  really great read. Okay, goodbye, everyone. Anita Gohdes 51:11 Thanks so much, Leslie. Bye. Transcribed by

2024-02-08 22:40

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