Top US intelligence official warns of global digital crackdown on dissent
Countries including China and Iran are deploying digital repression more frequently to target dissent both at home and beyond their borders, the top US intelligence official said, raising the alarm about the erosion of democratic norms worldwide.
Invasive spyware, disinformation and other technological tools pose a grave threat to US national security, Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines said on Monday. Even worse, she added, artificial intelligence can enable regimes to head off efforts to counter them.
“The use of these technologies and methods to monitor and limit dissent are on a trajectory to become even more pervasive, targeted and complex,” Haines said at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington.
“We’re seeing more and more instances of other countries engaging in digital repression and their adoption of these approaches is, in turn, contributing to further democratic erosion,” she said.
Haines singled out Russia for passing laws that censored opposition to its invasion of Ukraine and imprisoning people who spread so-called “fake news”. Iran and China, she said, had curtailed digital speech, both domestically and elsewhere.
China is “the world’s leading perpetrator of transnational repression”, Haines said. She pointed to a recent indictment against four dozen Chinese officials for allegedly harassing Chinese citizens in the US.
Chinese embassy spokesman Liu Pengyu rejected Haines’s characterisation and said the country abides by international law.
“China firmly opposes the US’s slanders and smears, its political manipulation, the false narrative of ‘transnational repression,” Liu said in a statement. “The US abuse of judicial and law enforcement against the Chinese citizens is the real ‘transnational repression’, bringing further damage to the mutual trust between the two countries and bilateral cooperation in the relevant fields.”
Haines warned of the rising practice of governments cutting off internet access, which she said had happened more than 180 times across 35 countries last year. The US intelligence community has seen a record number of governments block websites with political, social or religious content. BM/DM