The Rise of Digital Repression:
How Technology is Reshaping Power, Politics, and Resistance
ABOUT THE BOOK
The world is undergoing a profound set of digital disruptions that are changing the nature of how governments counter dissent and assert control over their countries. While increasing numbers of people rely primarily or exclusively on online platforms, authoritarian regimes have concurrently developed a formidable array of technological capabilities to constrain and repress their citizens.
In The Rise of Digital Repression, Steven Feldstein documents how the emergence of advanced digital tools bring new dimensions to political repression. Presenting new field research from Thailand, the Philippines, and Ethiopia, he investigates the goals, motivations, and drivers of these digital tactics. Feldstein further highlights how governments pursue digital strategies based on a range of factors: ongoing levels of repression, political leadership, state capacity, and technological development. The international community, he argues, is already seeing glimpses of what the frontiers of repression look like. For instance, Chinese authorities have brought together mass surveillance, censorship, DNA collection, and artificial intelligence to enforce their directives in Xinjiang. As many of these trends go global, Feldstein shows how this has major implications for democracies and civil society activists around the world.
A compelling synthesis of how anti-democratic leaders harness powerful technology to advance their political objectives, The Rise of Digital Repression concludes by laying out innovative ideas and strategies for civil society and opposition movements to respond to the digital autocratic wave.
“Digital technologies were once seen as a harbinger of liberalization and democratization. Thanks to ‘big data,’ A.I., machine learning, facial recognition, and other mass surveillance systems, they have now become an autocrat’s best friend and a big business opportunity. With precision and clarity, Steven Feldstein documents the disturbing spread of the political economy of digital repression and offers pathways to help resist it. The Rise of Digital Repression is an important contribution to the scholarly literature on information controls.”
“Steve Feldstein delivers a book that will be viewed as indispensable to anyone concerned with the intersection of technology and the state, and particularly, the evolving impact on people’s quest for freedom the world over. In original case studies, he details how the current rising tide of authoritarianism has been enabled by digital repression…equally compelling are the strategies he outlines for democratic governments, for civil society activists, and for those in the private sector looking to stem the tide.”
“This book is a must-read on the myriad ways that state repression has adapted to the digital age. Through data-driven analysis and original case studies, Steven Feldstein provides a comprehensive guide to online censorship, disinformation, and surveillance. This is an excellent primer for those looking to understand how to push back against digital authoritarianism.”
“The Rise of Digital Repression invites us to look beyond digital politics in North America and Europe. Technology in authoritarian hands creates smothering repression in the Philippines, Ethiopia, Thailand, or anywhere one finds governments fear of their own citizens. Advances in artificial intelligence, especially when developed by techno-authoritarian regimes, deepens the concern. Yet, in the end, Feldstein guides us through more hopeful alternatives. This is essential reading for those who are concerned about the struggle between freedom and repression.”
C-Span The Communicators: Book Interview
Interview on C-Span’s The Communicators about the ways autocratic governments utilize new digital technology to reinforce their power and influence politics. July 2, 2021
Vox Conversations Podcast: "Digital Dictatorships"
Discussion with Vox’s Zack Beauchamp about how governing regimes use digital technology to repress their citizens. June 10, 2021
Boise State Public Radio - Reader's Corner
Interview with Bob Kustra on Reader’s Corner (Boise State Public Radio) about key themes in The Rise of Digital Repression. October 29, 2021
National Endowment for Democracy: Book Event
May 26, 2021, 11:00 am – 12:00 pm EDT – Online NED event. Video Posted
Carnegie Endowment: In conversation with Anne Applebaum and Josh Chin
April 29, 2021, 10:00 am EDT – Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. Video Posted
Fridays with Frank: Book Conversation
May 28, 2021, 12:00 pm EDT – Frank Church Institute, Boise State University. Video Posted
Center for the Study of the Presidency and Congress: Book Conversation with Zaid A. Zaid
May 27, 2021, 2:30 pm EDT. Video Posted
PCFR: In conversation with Luke Wenz
June 3, 2021, 3:00 pm EDT – Phoenix Committee on Foreign Relations. Video Posted
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Steven Feldstein is a senior fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in the Democracy, Conflict, and Governance Program where he focuses on issues of technology and democracy, human rights, and U.S. foreign policy. Previously, he was the holder of the Frank and Bethine Church Chair of Public Affairs and an associate professor at Boise State University.
He served as a deputy assistant secretary in the democracy, human rights, and labor bureau in the U.S. Department of State as an appointee under President Obama, where he had responsibility for Africa policy, international labor affairs, and international religious freedom. He also served as the director of policy at the U.S. Agency for International Development. He previously worked as counsel on the U.S. Senate Committee on Foreign Relations under Chairmen Joseph Biden and John Kerry.
Feldstein’s articles and essays have been published widely and he is the author of The Rise of Digital Repression: How Technology is Reshaping Power, Politics, and Resistance (Oxford University Press, 2021). He is a graduate of Princeton University and Berkeley Law.
Articles and Media
Full publications and media list
Putin Has Destroyed The Liberal International Order But Liberal Democracies Are Destroying Themselves
The Unpopulist (substack), April 5, 2022
Government Internet Shutdowns Are Changing. How Should Citizens and Democracies Respond?
Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, March 31, 2022
Russia’s War in Ukraine Is a Watershed Moment for Internet Platforms
Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, March 3, 2022
Who’s In and Who’s Out From Biden’s Democracy Summit
Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, November 22, 2021
Issues on the Frontlines of Technology and Politics
Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, October 29, 2021
Sideswiped: Apple, Google, and the Kremlin’s Make-Believe Election
Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, September 23, 2021
Governments Are Using Spyware on Citizens. Can They Be Stopped?
Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, July 21, 2021
Digital Technology’s Evolving Role in Politics, Protest and Repression
US Institute for Peace, July 21, 2021
Trump's Facebook Ban Won't Stop Conservative Disinformation
Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, May 6, 2021
How to tackle Europe’s digital democracy challenges
Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, October 15, 2020
When it comes to digital authoritarianism, China is a challenge -- but not the only challenger
War On the Rocks, February 12, 2020
The Global Expansion of AI Surveillance
Carnegie Endowment for International Peace -- Working Paper, September 17, 2019
TV interview, “China’s Surveillance State: Why You Should Be Worried | System Error,”
VICE News, February 3, 2022
TV interview, "China-Russia Pushback On U.S. Democracy Summit Forms ‘Critical Subtext’ For World Stage"
CNBC, December 17, 2021
Interviewed for "The Sept. 11 attacks in United States ushered in era of increased surveillance, human rights violations and mass displacements globally"
Thomson Reuters Foundation, September 9, 2021
Quoted in "From creaking Cairo, Egypt plans high-tech leap with new capital"
Reuters, September 2, 2021
Politics in Lebanon, and the rise of digital repression
Chatham House - Undercurrents Podcast, August 27, 2021
Quoted in "The biggest threat to democracy isn’t coming from China. It’s coming from within"
Vox, July 28, 2021
Former Boise State Professor Writes About Challenges Facing Tech And Democracy Around The World
Boise State Public Radio - Idaho Matters, June 10, 2021
Quoted in "Russia’s Surveillance State Struggles to Wean Itself Off the West"
Foreign Policy, May 24, 2021
Podcast interview, “The troubling rise of facial recognition technology”
Nature Podcast, November 18, 2020
Quoted in “Hong Kong was a 'safe harbor' for tech companies shut out of China. Not anymore”
CNN Business, July 9, 2020
Testimony for “China’s Strategic Aims in Africa"
U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission, May 8, 2020
Radio interview, “How China Is Using Facial Recognition Technology”
NPR All Things Considered, December 16, 2019
Quoted in “Facial recognition: how China cornered the surveillance market”
Financial Times, December 6, 2019
Report featured in “World catching up with China on surveillance tech”