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BIPR | Repression in the Digital Age
Repression in the Digital Age

April 22, 2024 - 18:30

Anita R. Gohdes, Hertie School, Berlin’s University of Governance

Event Recap

Anita R. Gohdes, a Professor in Cybersecurity from the Hertie School in Berlin, Germany, delivered a captivating lecture on the intricate dynamics of state repression in the digital age. Drawing from her extensive research, highlighted in her award-winning book "Repression in the Digital Age: Surveillance, Censorship, and the Dynamics of State Violence," Gohdes examined how Internet controls intersect with and influence state repressive strategies.

At the heart of Gohdes' inquiry lies a fundamental question: How do cyber controls contribute to state repression? To address this question, she commenced by showcasing a graph illustrating the average number of individuals using the Internet across various political regimes, ranging from liberal democracies to closed autocracies. The data underscored a notable trend of increased internet usage across all regimes, with liberal democracies experiencing the most pronounced growth. Gohdes then delineated between online surveillance, which involves the interception and monitoring of online information and communication, and online censorship, which encompasses the restriction, blocking, and throttling of internet access and content. These concepts served as foundational pillars for her subsequent analysis of state repression in the digital sphere.

Throughout her lecture, Gohdes offered compelling case studies to elucidate the complex relationship between Internet controls and state violence. In Syria, for instance, she examined how online surveillance correlates with targeted violence, particularly in contexts where traditional forms of information gathering are scarce or ineffective. Similarly, Gohdes scrutinized the situation in Iran, where nationwide internet shutdowns coincided with mass repression, exemplifying the symbiotic relationship between digital restrictions and violent state responses. A key insight gleaned from Gohdes' research is the evolving role of Internet controls within the broader landscape of state repression. Contrary to the notion that digital mechanisms supplant traditional forms of repression, Gohdes posited that Internet controls often serve to augment existing repressive apparatuses. This nuanced understanding underscores the multifaceted nature of modern authoritarianism, wherein technological advancements intersect with traditional modes of coercion to bolster state control.

Beyond her empirical findings, Gohdes probed the broader implications of Internet controls for international politics and human rights. She underscored the significance of digital infrastructure in shaping global governance and highlighted the challenges posed by internet shutdowns to democratic norms and freedoms.

During the Q&A session, she touched on topics ranging from the rapid execution of internet shutdowns in authoritarian regimes to the efficacy of analogue technologies in evading digital censorship.

Repression in the Digital Age

hosted by Professor Nina Hall

Anita R. Gohdes
Hertie School, Berlin’s University of Governance

Anita R. Gohdes is Professor of International and Cyber Security at the Hertie School in Berlin.

Previously, she was Assistant Professor of International Relations at the University of Zurich, and postdoctoral research fellow at the Belfer Center and the Women and Public Policy Program in the Harvard Kennedy School.

Her research focuses on the intersection of technology and security, as well as the measurement of political violence. Her recently published book is titled Repression in the Digital Age: Surveillance, Censorship, and the Dynamics of State Violence and theoretically and empirically investigates how governments use cyber controls to support their strategies of violent repression.

Her work has been covered by various news outlets and is accepted or appears in the American Journal of Political Science, Journal of Politics, Journal of Conflict Resolution, Journal of Peace Research, Nature Human Behavior, Journal of Human Rights, and at Oxford University Press. She is also an Associate Editor at the Journal of Peace Research.

Since 2009, she has been working for the Human Rights Data Analysis Group, and with Amnesty International on investigating the human rights costs on Internet shutdowns.
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