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Countering Digital Authoritarianism

This combination of photos, clockwise, from upper left: a Google sign, the Twitter app, YouTube TV logo and the Facebook app.

The rise of new technologies over the past two decades parallels the democratic recession and in fact has helped fuel it.

Countering Digital Authoritarianism
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10 years ago, communication over social media helped bring down dictators in the Arab Spring, said USAID Administrator Samantha Power. “Today, it seems the opposite has happened. The rise of new technologies over the past two decades parallels the democratic recession … and in fact … has helped fuel it.”

“While it's true that digital technology has enabled immense scientific and economic progress that we benefit from every day, including at this Summit, it has also given governments the ability to surveil, to censor, and to repress their people as never before. Authoritarians learned that Big Data, social media control the Internet, and artificial intelligence could make them even more powerful.”

Speaking at the virtual Summit for Democracy Event Countering Digital Authoritarianism And Affirming Democratic Values, Administrator Power noted that because technology companies and many democratic governments, including the United States, were too slow to realize or act upon the severity of the problem, digital-enabled repression spread around the globe.

“Of the 3.8 billion people around the world who have access to the Internet, the vast majority -- some three quarters -- live in countries where governments, last year, arrested and jailed people for expressing non-violent political or social views online.”

Adding, “authoritarians only own the future if we let them.” The United States plans to introduce several initiatives as part of the Presidential Initiative for Democratic Renewal.

First, USAID will expand its digital democracy work, investing up to $20 million annually.

Second, the United States and partners will use export control tools to prevent the proliferation of software and technology used to enable serious human rights abuses.

Third, the United States, Canada and Denmark will launch a Surveillance Principles Initiative outlining how governments should use surveillance technology in line with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the rule of law.

Fourth, a series of new International Grand Challenges on Democracy-Affirming Technologies, will provide funds to help build democratic values into the next generation technologies.

Fifth, the United States will help closed societies access an open Internet through a new fund for anti-censorship technology.

And finally, the United States and its partners aim to strengthen the global multi-stakeholder system of Internet governance.

“In the tech world, "Move fast and break things," has been the prevailing mantra,” said Administrator Power. “A lot has been broken. And now, it is incumbent on all of us to move fast too, faster than we ever have before, to repair our democracies.”