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Weaponizing Cyber Law

In recent years, autocratic regimes have increasingly relied on legal and bureaucratic tools – from restrictions on foreign funding to draconian sedition laws – to impede civic activism. Now, they are adding cyber legislation to their arsenals of repression.

BANGKOK – Having watched popular protests, from the color revolutions in the former Soviet Union to the Arab Spring, challenge their counterparts’ power, the world’s autocrats have been adopting legal measures aimed at incapacitating civic groups, including pro-democracy movements and human-rights NGOs. Among the most sweeping measures are those enabling officials to monitor and punish activists’ online activities.

Though overt crackdowns by security forces remain a serious concern, in recent years, autocratic regimes have increasingly been relying on legal and bureaucratic tools to impede opponents. For example, many countries – including Cambodia, China, Egypt, Ethiopia, Jordan, Russia, Tanzania, Thailand, Uzbekistan, and Venezuela – have tightened restrictions on organization registration, foreign funding, and public assembly.

Autocratic governments have also made liberal use of existing laws prohibiting vaguely defined crimes like defamation and sedition, as well as anti-terrorism legislation. And, now, they are adding cyber laws to their arsenals of repression.

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