Policy Briefs Books Journals

Social Media, Technology and Peacebuilding Policy Brief  No.137 - September, 2022 • By Prithvi Subramani Iyer

Policy Brief No.137: How Big Data Can Bolster Autocratic Legitimacy
(Via the Rhetoric of Safety and Convenience)

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This Policy Brief examines the different ways in which big data collection serves autocratic agendas by hiding the oppressive potential of heightened surveillance through promises of enhanced safety, convenience, and modernisation. Political actors with autocratic agendas can package their governance agenda via these promises of big data to bolster their legitimacy as leaders and avoid backlash for their invasive policies. The paper explores case studies illustrating that in some cases citizens welcome or do not object to invasive policies when autocrats frame the collection of private information as enhancing citizen safety and convenience. The paper then unpacks how the narrative push for digital solutionism and technology optimism unwittingly serves autocratic agendas. Finally, recommendations are provided for policymakers and civil society organisations seeking to resist the sinister alliance of big data and autocratic repression or what some have rightfully called, “digital dictatorships.”

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