The U.S., China and the EU are exporting their electronic surveillance capabilities, practices, and legislation all over the world. Privacy International recently released the report “Teach ’em to phish”, showing that worldwide, governments of powerful countries are financing and equipping developing countries with surveillance capabilities. Among the countries are authoritarian regimes where the rule of law and human rights are under pressure. This is posing a threat to the citizens of these countries. Especially surveillance tools such as mass untargeted surveillance or state hacking pose  risks to international human rights by undermining privacy rights.

 

Digital authoritarianism around the globe is increasing and undermining democracy. The spread of surveillance tools is feeding this trend. In a digitally authoritarian regime, governments draw on data of citizens they should not be allowed to use in liberal democracies. Data from different sources – tax returns, medical records, criminal records, financial information, genetic screenings, and data from the family and closely connected friends – can be combined to analyze and predict behavior and exert control. According to the Privacy International report, countries with the most extensive security and military agencies – the U.S., China, and countries in the EU – are the ones who are most actively transporting their surveillance skills globally. Even if there have been efforts to curb the sale of surveillance technology to undemocratic nations, such as those exerted by the European Union, Dutch research on the European security industry (2014-2017) found that goods and expertise have still continued to be exported to authoritarian states. Almost one-third of licenses granted by the EU have been to export surveillance products to countries deemed “not free” by watchdog Freedom House. As we wrote earlier, as there are substantial benefits for the providing countries to export surveillance – creating new markets, fighting migration, accessing data from other countries – this trend is unlikely to lose force.

 

Furthermore, the internet, once designed as an open and free space, is also increasingly under threat of being controlled by governments. The number of internet shutdowns is dramatically increasing around the world. According to Access Now, 2018 already is a record year for intentional disruptions of the internet, with the large majority of these happening in Asia and Africa.

 

As surveillance tools become more ubiquitous and present in multiple domains of our daily lives, we are afraid of moving increasingly towards an Orwellian scenario. The constraints on a free and open society and control by repressive government through surveillance might create increasing distrust among citizens in the government.

 

RISKS MARKED ON THE RISK RADAR AS NUMBER 3:

Declining internet freedom

The Risk Radar is a monthly research report in which we monitor and qualify the world’s biggest risks to watch. Our updates are based on the estimated likelihood and impact of these risks. This report provides an additional ‘risk flection’ from a political, social, economic and technological perspective.
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