Human rights come under pressure from digital controls

Human rights come under pressure from digital controls

Use of high-end digital surveillance technology goes far beyond China’s Xinjiang province

In his 1996 Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace, John Perry Barlow, the late internet libertarian, did not merely assert that the influence of national governments was unwelcome among netizens, but also that they “have no sovereignty where we gather”.

Yet as authoritarian regimes around the world harness digital techniques to undermine human rights and enable mass surveillance, Barlow’s optimism now feels misplaced.

Such techniques are not restricted to dictatorships — these systems have found a growing use in both the public and private sector in democratic states. The deployment of facial recognition at London’s King Cross was only halted after regulators intervened.

But in countries where the checks and balances are even more limited, the effects are amplified. The epitome of cyber surveillance is China, with its Golden Shield project, which has evolved into the “Great Firewall” system of internet controls.