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How authoritarian regimes take control of the Internet

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In the era of hyperconnectivity, the Internet, originally conceived as a space for free and borderless exchanges, is threatened by the ever-increasing influence of authoritarian regimes. Far from thunderous speeches and brutal censorship methods, these regimes deploy insidious strategies to weave their web of control over the global network, extending their influence beyond their borders.

A recent study published on February 14 in PNAS Nexus led by Eda Keremoğlu of the University of Konstanz looked into the question. Led by American and German researchers, the latter lifts the veil on these devious maneuvers, revealing increasingly sophisticated techniques aimed at muzzling dissent and directing the information flow.

Submarine operations

Alexander Gamero-Garrido is assistant professor in computer science at the University of California, Davis and co-author of the study. According to him, discretion is the prerogative of controlling transit networks, these information highways which connect the different information networks. #8217;global access. « This is a mode of operation that autocracies seem to favor, because it is much less visible […] They operate in the dark, far from public view ”.

While transit networks have given way to direct interconnections between large ISPs in developed countries, they retain a fundamental role in many regions of the world. These networks, little known to the general public, constitute the vital arteries of the Web in many developing regions. The study underlines their importance and highlights a disparity: if the ownership of access networks does not differ between political regimes, the control of transit networks is significantly more centralized in authoritarian countries. A fairly logical observation, but very worrying.

These strategies give them immense power to monitor and manipulate internet traffic, which allows them to extend their influence more effectively .

Monopolization of networks by the State

Unlike democracies, where ownership and control of these networks are more diversified, autocratic countries are characterized by a strong concentration of power in the hands of state entities. “ At least 75 countries, representing a quarter of the world's Internet users, are dominated by a small group of transit providers, often a single company ,” emphasizes Alexander Gamero-Garrido.

A centralized control, used as a a formidable lever to monitor traffic. Indeed, by having control over the infrastructures that transport data, these regimes can easily filter content deemed undesirable, limit access to certain information and, more generally, stifle dissent and direct the media narrative to

Technological cooperation between autocracies

In addition to this, the study highlights light, a reality that is also very worrying. The tactic is treacherous: the most sophisticated authoritarian regimes extend their influence towards poorer autocratic countries that share political affinities.

Concretely, the state internet companies of the richest authoritarian regimes often provide access networks to poorer autocratic countries. Political-technological cooperation allowing said regimes to extend their zone of influence beyond their national borders.

This makes it possible to form real clusters of e countries sharing practices similar undemocratic ones. Thanks to this process, these collaborations strengthen state control over information and further consolidate the positions of authoritarian regimes. Thus, poorer autocratic countries, very often dependent on the technologies and know-how of more developed countries, therefore find themselves stuck in a network of influence which limits their ability to free themselves from the practices authoritarians.

This technological cooperation between authoritarian regimes constitutes an additional threat to freedom of expressionand access to free and plural information for all.

As Gamero-Garrido, co-author of the study, points out, “ these companies [Editor's note& nbsp;: who control the transit networks] are almost unknown to the general public ”. However, it is crucial to expose them to the light in order to counter their influence and preserve a free and open internet. This opacity is their best weapon, and breaking it would be a solution to limit their power and protect freedom of expression online. It is a long-term battle that we hope to one day be able to win and which must be pursued relentlessly. A hope perhaps too optimistic?

  • Authoritarian regimes control the web by discreetly manipulating transit networks.
  • These networks are monopolized by States in order to manipulate information flows, support censorship and counter political opposition.
  • Autocracies collaborate with each other to expand their influence and strengthen their control over information.

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Teilor Stone

By Teilor Stone

Teilor Stone has been a reporter on the news desk since 2013. Before that she wrote about young adolescence and family dynamics for Styles and was the legal affairs correspondent for the Metro desk. Before joining Thesaxon , Teilor Stone worked as a staff writer at the Village Voice and a freelancer for Newsday, The Wall Street Journal, GQ and Mirabella. To get in touch, contact me through my teilor@nizhtimes.com 1-800-268-7116