Authoritarian Practices in the Digital Age| Illiberal and Authoritarian Practices in the Digital Sphere — Prologue
Concern about how digital communication technologies contribute to a decline of democracy and the rise of authoritarian tendencies abounds in academic and public debate. In this conceptual contribution—which connects insights from new media studies, critical security studies, human rights law, and authoritarianism research—we argue that the threats citizens may be exposed to in a digitally networked world can be grouped into three categories: (1) arbitrary surveillance, (2) secrecy and disinformation, and (3) violation of freedom of expression. We introduce the twin concepts of digital illiberal and authoritarian practices to better identify and disaggregate how such threats can be produced and diffused in transnational and multi-actor configurations. Illiberal practices, we argue, infringe on the autonomy and dignity of the person, and they are a human rights problem. Authoritarian practices sabotage accountability and thereby threaten democratic processes. We use the example of the U.S. National Security Agency’s massive secret data-gathering program to illustrate both what constitutes a practice and the distinctions as well as the connections between illiberal and authoritarian practices in the digital sphere.