Digital technologies as a means of repression and social control

Study 18-05-2021

The proliferation of new and emerging technologies over the past two decades has significantly expanded states’ toolkit for repression and social control, deepening human rights problems. While these technologies still have the potential to positively enhance democratic values and human rights, they are now also actively deployed and shaped by many repressive regimes to their own strategic advantage. Globally and regionally, efforts have been made to tackle the challenges that digital technologies pose to human rights, but a lot remains to be done. The EU must enrich global legal and standard-setting efforts, as well as improve its own core foreign policy instruments. The EU’s foreign policy toolbox has become more comprehensive in the last several years, with the addition of a number of different strands to its efforts against ‘digital authoritarianism’. The challenge related to the use of digital technologies by authoritarian regimes has continued to deepen, however. The EU must therefore continue to find ways to fine-tune and add to this toolbox. A core finding that runs through this report is that the EU has undertaken many valuable and well-designed policy initiatives in this field, but still has to decide whether tackling digital repression is a core geopolitical interest at the highest political level.