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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.”

Ron Deibert, Director, the Citizen Lab, Munk School of Global Affairs and Public Policy, the University of Toronto

“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.”

Sarah E. Mendelson, Distinguished Service Professor of Public Policy, Carnegie Mellon University, Former U.S. Ambassador to the UN’s Economic and Social Council

“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.”

Adrian Shahbaz, Director for Technology and Democracy, Freedom House

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.”

Steven Livingston, Professor & Founding Director Institute for Data, Democracy, and Politics, George Washington University


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

A Devex Leader Conversation with Steven Feldstein

June 22, 2021 – Devex. Video Posted

Fridays with Frank: Book Conversation

May 28, 2021, 12:00 pm EDT – Frank Church Institute, Boise State University. Video Posted

PCFR: In conversation with Luke Wenz

June 3, 2021, 3:00 pm EDT – Phoenix Committee on Foreign Relations. Video Posted




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.

He is currently at work on a new book, notionally titled Bytes to Bullets, about how technology is changing geopolitical competition and impacting war, under contract with St. Martin’s Press.


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