World2021, the year of digital surveillance

2021, the year of digital surveillance

ANALYSIS – The NGO Amnesty International denounces the States that have used the Covid pandemic to limit freedoms.

From the preface to the 2021 report on the situation of human rights in the world, the secretary general of Amnesty International, Agnès Callamard, sets the tone: “2021 should have been a year of healing and recovery. Instead, it served as an incubator for more inequality and instability.” Amnesty International reports a sharp deterioration in the respect and protection of rights around the world, and highlights the threats to freedom of expression and assembly.

Governments in different parts of the world, from Asia-Pacific to Africa, have used the Covid-19 pandemic as an excuse to circumscribe, or in some cases nullify, opposition voices. Sixty-seven countries of the one hundred and fifty-four studied by the organization took advantage of the pandemic to enact laws restricting freedoms, even when the health situation improved, under the pretext of combating misinformation.

A “rise of authoritarianism” in Europe

New technologies have proven to be a formidable weapon, and have enabled many persecutions. Data mining, facial recognition and website blocking have become commonplace in authoritarian, and sometimes democratic, regimes. China, already a champion in the field, reinforced its arsenal in 2021. Many sites and applications, which tackled sensitive subjects such as Xinjiang or Hong Kong, were blocked, under the pretext that they “threaten national security”.

Russia took inspiration from its Chinese ally on this point. “Arbitrary and extrajudicial blocking of websites continued (in Russia), while the scope of the legislation in this area was extended”, explains the Amnesty report. Social networks also give the Kremlin the possibility of carrying out absurd legal proceedings against its opponents. An environmental activist close to Alexei Navalny, Andrei Borovikov, was sentenced to two and a half years in prison in April 2021 for “dissemination of pornographic material”when he posted a video of German metal band Ramstein.

But Western countries are not left out. Proof of this is with the Pegasus system, designed by the Israeli company NSO Group. This spyware has been used by Hungary, Poland, Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan to monitor journalists and human rights activists. Even the German government admitted to having obtained it. Amnesty International denounces a “rise of authoritarianism” in Europe, where the organization has observed practices of online harassment of journalists, particularly women, as well as intimidation. France is also singled out by the report.

France is singled out by the report. In the viewfinder of the organization: the laws on “global security” and “criminal responsibility and internal security”

In the sights of the organization: the laws on “global security” and “Criminal Accountability and Homeland Security” which now allow law enforcement to film crowds of protesters through the use of drones. Attacks on freedom of expression and assembly are not the only violations of the rule of law noted in 2021 by the NGO. Cécile Coudriou, president of Amnesty International France, denounced, during a press conference on March 28, “total disregard for humanitarian law” observed in 2021, and which seems to be normalizing. “Civilians are no longer collateral damage, but targets”she warns.

Many war crimes have been perpetrated in the Tigray region of Ethiopia, where the rape of women and children is becoming a systematic practice. China continued to persecute Uighurs, a Turkic-speaking Muslim minority, in detention camps in Xinjiang. And in the context of the war in Ukraine, a short-term improvement is unlikely…