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Digital Authoritarian Practices: Internet Surveillance and Repression against Transnational Activist Networks

Project description

Digital technology as a tool of repression in authoritarian regimes

Authoritarian regimes use new digital technology to repress rights activists. The EU-funded DIGIACT project will investigate how authoritarian regimes apply repressive digital methods against political opponents and human rights activists in the Middle East and Northern Africa (MENA). The project will study the relationship that exists between authoritarian regimes and digital technology, as well as how fundamental rights can be protected in the digital world. To achieve its goals, the project is working alongside the Law, Science, Technology & Society (LSTS) at Vrije Universiteit Brussel in Belgium.


Transnational advocacy networks play an important role in exposing rights violations and undermining media censorship under authoritarian regimes. Yet, repressive states increasingly resort to surveillance, malware attacks, online harassment and disinformation campaigns to compromise transnational civil society activists and mute their voices. DIGIACT investigates forms of digitally enabled information control, surveillance and repression against political activists, journalists and human rights defenders from the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) who reside in the European Union. The project provides an in-depth analysis of how threats to freedom of expression and privacy of transnational activists emerge and spread in an environment of rapidly evolving digital technologies. The research studies the motivations and capabilities of the regimes behind the threats, the effects on targeted communities and their strategies of resistance, and the implications both on a normative (international human rights law and other legal frameworks) and practical level (risk mitigation and capacity building). With this research agenda, DIGIACT aims to contribute to a) concept building on the relationship between digital technologies and authoritarian politics, and b) the debate on how to protect fundamental norms and rights in the digital age. To accomplish these goals, the project is embedded in the research group on Law, Science, Technology & Society (LSTS) at VUB where the applicant will receive training in theoretical and legal approaches to surveillance, privacy and data protection in the context of digital technologies.


Net EU contribution
€ 178 320,00
1050 Bruxelles / Brussel

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Région de Bruxelles-Capitale/Brussels Hoofdstedelijk Gewest Région de Bruxelles-Capitale/ Brussels Hoofdstedelijk Gewest Arr. de Bruxelles-Capitale/Arr. Brussel-Hoofdstad
Activity type
Higher or Secondary Education Establishments
Total cost
€ 178 320,00