The Dark Side to the New Digital Age

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In January of 2013, Eric Schmidt, Executive Chairman of Google, visited North Korea. A book by the same title of this article was published, and the Wall Street Journal published an essay based on it.

We’ve seen how technology played an important role in returning â€people power†to citizens in several countries and even led to regime overthrow, such as in Egypt. Countries like North Korea are controlling the rollout of cell phones and internet services to their citizens so they don’t lose control. Mr. Schmidt believes that once technology is available, even the most repressive regimes are unable to put it back in the box. On the other hand, he acknowledges that there is a ¨dark side¨ to the technology. It provides
powerful new tools for dictators to suppress dissent.

Noting that 57% of the world’s population still lives under some form of autocratic regime, ¨from Tehran to Beijing, autocrats are building the technology and training the personnel to suppress democratic dissent, often with the help of Western companies who help them build an infrastructure of cell towers, data centers, specialized software, and the energy and training to operate it all. They then build a digital police state which is expert in surveillance and shares the information to those who keep them in power.

As you may remember, Google chose to close its offices in mainland China, rather than “support the dark forces¨. The issues that this important book raises need to be heeded by all of us. If you’re not going to read the book, at least see the essay and the photos (Wall Street Journal, April 20, 2013, pages C1&2).