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tv   The Communicators Steven Feldstein The Rise of Digital Repression  CSPAN  July 5, 2021 8:00pm-8:31pm EDT

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>> media, report c-span2 as a public service. >> watching book tv from ccn to fliptop nonfiction books and authors every weekend. book tv, television for serious readers. >> stephen is the author of this new book, the rise of digital repression, technology reshaping power, politics resistance. what you mean by visual repression? >> thank you for having me on. when i'm talking about digital repression, one phase the information communication technologies are being used to further autocratic agendas are basically the ways in which technologies being used via coloration and other means to accomplish political goals particularly for those leaders want democratic, antidemocratic
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aspirations. >> what are some techniques being used? >> there's a variety of them from a more traditional techniques include mass surveillance, spyware and targeted surveillance and internet websites, disinformation campaigns, internet shutdowns and actual persecution of online personalities so pretty wide range of techniques are being used interesting combinations depending upon which country in which type of leaders who are looking at. >> is is a book about china? >> china is an important question permeating throughout the book and one of the questions i wanted to examine when writing the book was to what extent china leading the push when it comes to countries adopting these techniques mass surveillance and censorship and so forth into the chinese model we are seeing? looking at this question and on
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the ground countries as well as looking at globally, one of my key takeaways is china's model has had a negative influence when it comes to the adoption of these techniques, china isn't the primary driver when it comes to individual readers making decisions about whether to use specific digital technologies or oppressive and are not. >> beginning of the book, he writes that you spent time in the philippines, ethiopia, hong kong thailand, why those four countries? >> each of them serves as a slightly different type of political distance so i wanted to see how different types of leaderships and resumes, what they look like when it comes to the adoption of these techniques. the philippines is a democracy, albeit a week democracy, private is an authoritarian state and ethiopia is also authoritarian but recently transforming to the
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liberalized arena so they are different aspects of these techniques. the other thing from all three have interesting to china as well and presented really good opportunities to examine on the china question in addition to other questions. >> let's take the philippines, how is the philippines using digital repression and what are its ties to china? >> broadly speaking when it comes to this, what is interesting is the philippines, certain types of oppressive techniques from the types he would seek in the authoritarian state from across surveillance or censorship are being used, it has an open frequent system so the key question for someone like has taken the country and an authoritarian direction is how they accomplish the political agenda and a solution for him is to use this information in new ways be on facebook in particular to intimidate critics manipulate
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information, promote his political narrative, essentially propaganda and essentially distort what people see and what citizens you and consume and to that extent, it's different than what you would think of in terms of state tracking citizens. in the philippines much more population. on china's question is interesting, it's historically a u.s. ally. in recent years, he has started to embrace the chinese and invest a big mass surveillance project. in the last year though, there's a pullback when it comes to this questioning whether growing info china is of interest it is off and on relationship on the one hand there is certain technologies could potentially be used for depression but on the other hand is more recent distancing, i don't know if this makes sense for us to mark
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social media minimization you referred to in the philippines, that is happening and more pure democracies as well, isn't it? >> you see a lot of parallels, either when it comes to disinformation question in the united states, and countries in europe and so forth and a lot of parallels when it comes to this strain, populace outrage by social media and authoritarian liberal leaders are able to harness and leverage and exploit the narrative, they have been a pioneer doing that but there's also a lot of things to it. we are seeing with other leaders in the united states and democracies as well i want to come back to something you said earlier about china not being the leader. when you think of surveillance censorship, disinformation, persecution, often one thinks about china. >> rights. the nuance is this, china has demonstrated broadly seeking,
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the ways in which technologies can be used for repressive ends and the evidence of that particular when it comes to persecution of the leader minority is a chilly model that others were two excellent examples but comes to individual theater positions, i think there are a couple of important aspects, one is a lot of leaders can't embrace the chinese model without public backlash. so look at thailand drive conducted a ton of interviews, political office leaders said even if we think someone is message would be useful to us to directly embrace chinese mass surveillance is something that would immediately cause backlash so in that sense there has to be other motivating factors for why countries choose these techniques when it comes to their country. >> how does the chinese social credit score play into what you are talking about? >> certainly represents the
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culmination how technology in the hands of fate which is able to into the private transactions undertaken, how that can be leveraged sinister ways by political purposes that is something i think as it starts to come together, it represents the next frontier but what i would also say is to what extent is this something that could be replicated in full form by other autocracies and authoritarian state parks i think to that end, there's a big? , a lot of capacity you need a biopsy, intelligence and data that comes in few countries are able to do that other than china particularly within this authoritarian system. >> your background is not
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necessarily intact, is it correct. >> it's not. i approached from the political science background. >> was your position in the obama ministration? >> human rights secretary the administration. >> by these some of the things he learned while in that position? >> yes, especially my region i traveled a lot to was africa in one of the eye-opening things where i talk about in the book is that as i was going to different countries like the democrat and republican congress or can you or nigeria, more and more i saw how technology was becoming this competitive classwork government were recognized at the protest in 2011, social media demonstrations were a threat to their roles or even places that have left conductivity digital sophistication, they were actively coming up tactics to push back and use technologies to consolidate their power.
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that kind of sparked a question, what are we talking about, to what extent is this around the world and what does it mean when it comes to political problems as we look ahead? >> you give the example into congo of visiting during presidents final term or desire to run for reelection. >> that's right. it was an eye-opening moment so i remember meeting with members, mostly online groups, we had dinner, we talked about strategies with using to delay elections and "afterwards" we left, i went to bed, woke up in the morning and found out several members met with us for dinner had been arrested and particularly these were people who weren't in mainstream opposition to the extent that they were known at all, they
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because they have a social media online presence, it took lots of work with our ambassador, washington and public statements and so forth japonicum meant the government to free those individuals but really what it emphasized was the government taken seriously social media oriented movements, it wasn't just about traditional opposition or society, there's a real recognition that the power of online movements to provoke critical change was something government saw as a real threat to their. >> those people you had dinner with the night before who were arrested, where they tracked via social media by the government? >> they were certainly known, one of the ways in which they try to garner support and get citizens to participate in different demonstrations or actions to send the message out via social media for the facebook or twitter or another platform so the government naturally was watching and
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seeing how these different demonstrations and protests were coming together especially seen these individuals meeting with the u.s. government, there is a decision made to send a message to those individuals. >> i want to talk about surveillance and ambiguity of surveillance cameras. what's the growth rate, if you have any idea how many surveillance cameras are out there in the world today? if you want talk about china specifically. >> is hundreds of millions and it's impossible to put a number on it because everyday increases by another doctor. what we do know is surveillance cameras different forms whether basic cameras are facial recognition cameras, increasing across the board and its not just an authoritarian state while certainly china is a leader when it comes to using and integrating these cameras with other systems to obtain for
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repressive objective, fees cameras and other surveillance devices are used throughout as well. i would say the uk and london in particular were the pioneers when it came to using surveillance in sophisticated manners whether from the ira or other incidences so it is something you see in the u.s. and russia in relation to recent protests but certainly china remains a real leader particularly when it comes to facial recognition. >> how are the cameras use, are the rules of the rope go with it? >> i think her rules are still hazy. there are basic forms when it comes to accountability and in the role of and whatever is picked up the other cameras have to go through a trial process so that sense there is a broader rule of law working in
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conjunction with how the cameras were used but there's a lot of questions in terms of bias and picking up people falsely when it comes to what extent should every corner of the public fear and be part of the surveillance footage, i think these are all debate continuing to grow up and there's a lot of pushback as a result of that particularly in democracy. >> so do you support the use of these cameras? >> i think in general, i'm very wary of them from i would say particularly with facial recognition, that is where i have specific concerns about how they are being used, wearily the jury is out until we get a privacy framework providing specific guardrails for how information can be accessed and used by law enforcement agencies. i think there's too many situations from to abuse and exploitation so i have a lot of
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conservatism on the advanced cameras out there. >> do you think that a government like in china and thailand has more access to somebody's smart phone and here in the united states? >> without question, and particularly in china, i think is actually true and it is less about check on security forces in the state access from it is absolutely true. one thing that is interesting is when you look up countries like thailand, when i start talking to intelligence officers, a lot of the apartment they use breaks into cell phones or access communications, this doesn't come from chinese technology, some of the biggest purveyors of this equipment relate to liberal democracies, israel, countries in europe and the united states since one of the interesting things from the fusion of this
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technology is that it is not just originated in china, it comes from a variety of wonders and punters, many of which are democracies themselves. >> 's privacy a thing of the past? >> i think at least as we have conceived of it, i think the idea that smart phones which are essentially devices for surveillance in one form or another, monetization reasons or law enforcement or political reasons but the fact that they are ubiquitous as we rely upon digital life devices and internet to conduct all of our business, i think that has to change our conception about what is guarded from intrusive eyes of others and the fact is that so much of this now in our data is out there in the open, we can still come up with ways to construct framework, transfer the about how our data is being
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used so in that sense i don't think we should give up in terms of privacy but the sense that we can create a line between private and public, i think that no longer is the case. >> in your book the rise of digital oppression, you talk about artificial intelligence and repression, what are you referring to? >> i am speaking about is sort of the rise of facial recognition algorithms used in conjunction with that and sifting through and processing large amounts of big data to provide insights either into specific sentiments or broadly what mass movements might be doing as well as granular insight particular individuals in terms of how they represent threat to law enforcement or politics so what we are seeing is our variety of techniques from smart policing, safe cities, facial recognition and
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surveillance this is deep learning algorithms providing new capabilities for law enforcement services to discover new insights about individuals that i think prior to were much harder sift through and understand. >> as you refer in the book from you talk about pervasiveness of information. >> that's right and as more and more information comes online, more and more people turn to the virtual world conducting all sorts of transaction, this information is power and the ability to harness that, understand it, sift through enterprise patterns and use that i think will provide important difficulties in the future. >> are we looking at george 1984? >> i think some and make an argument that in certain contexts, that is bearing out so
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returning again to china and what we think when it comes to persecution of the leaders, we are seeing both on the one hand traditional incarceration, persecution and so forth but it's paired with high tech tools whether it's genomics with databases being created, whether it is new systems integrating streams of data about weaker individuals to me that feels overwhelming. >> let's go back to the areas when it comes to digital oppression and i want to talk about persecution that you just referred to. our governmental regimes prosecuting people because of social media conduct? >> they are and this is something that's not necessarily that new but has been developing over the last decade or so. another example from back in my
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time when i was at the state department a country of thinking a lot about was ethiopia, a case study in the book and one of the main groups persecuted was either jail or have been sent into exile into the u.s. rate group called the barbers -- just like the congo, they are primarily an online group network critical of the existing regime publishing commentary pushing back against the policies and viewed as a threat may be because they have access to barbie read by a member of elites may be because they were getting attention from the international community before a variety of reasons, they were informatics office persecution of people that more or less have primarily an online presence. >> was it digital repression to keep former president donald trump off facebook works.
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>> i've written a few pieces about this and i don't think that is true, i think we do have to have guardrails when it comes to the types of conduct one ought to be permitted to put online so when you have misinformation and lead to incitement of violence in this case, donald trump, it's pretty fairly well that, i don't classify that as digital refreshment. what i argue is the opposite from a 5 meters in power trump and others use online platforms as a means to perpetuate falsehood in order to continue to consolidate their stay in office, that to me is a classic definition of digital oppression. one-of-a-kind five categories i outlined and affected by in the book. >> i remember reading supposedly
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the government of egypt could shut off the internet to the country, is that still possible today? >> yes, the shutdowns are a widespread trend from many countries particularly those with less sophistication's and capabilities, it's a trend that is growing, i think it is this story on egypt, they did try to shut on the internet by your had a perverse effect where as information was cut off, more and more people went to the streets to try to find out what was going on and it demonstrates even further so it shows you i think personally internet shutdowns pretty bad mechanism for governments to use if they try to actually stop this. it is a quick easy path to take so that's why government choose to do it, turn off productivity for the with a particularly region or across the region whose yet in iran ethiopia india but it is a crude instrument
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doesn't actually work all that well in terms of accomplishing those purposes. >> a quote from your book, the rise of digital oppression, as long as the economy stays strong, citizens will tolerate political freedom. >> that's right, i think to a large extent, it is a bit of a bargain from china is a great case where to miss put our freedoms viewed as acceptable as long as prosperity, the ability to make a good living, economic growth increases once those come into jeopardy and i think you start to see a smile of opposition so a lot of countries from about us that bargain essentially keep the economy running, whatever present actions you do, don't allow oppression actions to affect the economy and as long as you do that, both citizenry will probably not rise up but oftentimes that is a tricky balance to undertake legacy that
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upended in many situations. >> in our last few minutes, let's talk about so-called advantages of digital technology. what are they? >> one of the most interesting things is that digital technology has allowed for as much greater measure of accountability and i think we've ever seen particularly when it comes to product department, one think that i mentioned in the book, delicate uses intelligence to find out information about russia undertaking so they have been able to piece together and find out information we never would have known about looking through social media and other sources of digital information undertaking the uk or doubting the airlines in the ukraine by russian soldiers, these are the accountabilities digital technology allows for civil society groups and investigators
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to undertake it's a really important new development. >> can also lead to more democratic grassroot movements? >> i do think that's right. is it different groups are able to expose corruption, thinking of panama pavers from a few years ago but to lots of resignation across democracies as well as other assistance, different leaders were found to have our bank account in the islands from money from public funds, i think this can help to allow for greater scrutiny of conduct and certainly even while we see a bit of a pushback when it comes to social media, social media so helps link this together and lower areas of interest when it comes to demonstrations taking that's an important aspect we can't forget about when it comes to technology. >> this is probably something i should have asked at the beginning but why what a government want to use digital
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repression parts. >> i think there is sort of two ways to think about this. one is reinforcement or a complement to what they are arguing. a place like china would use digital oppression to augment and sharpen your tools that are exists. it helps you pinpoint infidels representing particularly wrists and monitor more broadly what people are saying and thinking perhaps you had office issues ahead of time before they swell up to become real problems. the second is a substitute, certain countries where clinical practices allow you to take the hardest measures he would like for example, imprisonment of massive individuals, you can use digital technology as a substitute either by monitoring and watching it want large amount of individuals picking certain people to prosecute or generally censor information sensitive.
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in other words, places like turkey or philippines or hungry or uganda, these tools act as a replacement for what otherwise would be much harder tools of oppression that would accomplish similar objections. >> for several years in this country we've had an ongoing debate about the role of wally and its connection to the chinese government, do you agree with that? >> there is a strong connection and laws in place in china, national security boss dictate the data wally collects and it can be accessed by the chinese government whatever purposes, i think it would also because authoritarian values china brings to the table, the fact that it subsidizes companies like wally as the companies go in established networks, it is further opportunities for the chinese communist party and for china enter into partnerships
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with these systems that represent a direct challenge to democracies so wally mostly has commercial interest in mind but because of this so distinctly tied to an authoritarian system with many edge between the two are nebulous, i think companies like wally are representative of a real challenge to democracies. >> in your book you write that bladder political landscape in which digital oppression is unfolding and worrisome. democracies worldwide are undergoing troubling. of retrenchment, there is a growing consensus that the world is experiencing a third wave of apartment hesitation. what does that mean? >> up until 2006, democracies were on the rise, this was a legacy of post-cold war self-worth but starting after
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2006 leading into today is reversal, this democratization affect essentially what we are witnessing is autocratic resurgence where authoritarian companies around the world or even democracies now pleading authoritarian more rural part of this places like brazil, poland, those numbers are increasing in significant ways so democracy more broadly whether or not you're looking at it technology plans or from a political perspective is under threat and that is something i think for those of us who care about political freedoms and civil liberties, it has a lot of people on guard. >> the rise of digital repression is the name of the book, how technology is reshaping politics and resistance. the author? stephen. ♪♪ >> weekends on c-span2 are
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learn, discover, explore. weekends on c-span2. ♪♪ >> next on book tvs "afterwards", "wall street journal" columnist jason riley discusses life and career of economists thomas soul interviewed by national talkshow post dennis breaker. >> jason riley, it is a pleasure to be with you. we have been together on my radio show, you have made a number of videos and i review in the "wall street journal", you are privy pretty ubiquitous in my life. i just want you to note that. >> thank you, good to be here. >> you have done a service to the intellectual life of america writing a biography thomas soul, i can in an odd way, how do you explain


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