A Strategy to Blend Domestic and Foreign Policy on Responsible Digital Surveillance Reform

Author: Ishan Sharma


Modern data surveillance has been used to systematically silence free expression, destroy political dissidents, and track ethnic minorities before placement in concentration camps. China’s surveillance-export system is providing a model of authoritarian stability and security to the 80+ countries using its technology, a number that will grow in the aftermath of COVID-19 as the technology spreads to the half of the world still to come online. This technology is shifting the balance of power between democratic and autocratic governance. Meanwhile, the purported US model is un-democratic at best: a Wild West absent of accountability and full of black box, NDA-protected public-private partnerships between law enforcement and surveillance companies. Our system continues to oppress marginalized communities in the US, muddying our moral claims abroad with hypocrisy. Surveillance undermines the privacy of everyone, but not equally. Most citizens remain unaware of, unaffected by, or disinterested in the daily violence propagated by the unregulated acquisition and use of surveillance. The lack of coordination between state and local agencies and the federal government around surveillance has created a deeply unregulated surveillance-tech environment and a discordant international agenda. Digital surveillance policy reform must coordinate both domestic and foreign imperatives. At home, it must be oriented toward solving a racial equity issue which produces daily harm. Abroad, it must be motivated by preserving 21st century democracy and human rights.

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About the Author

Photo of Dr. Geoffrey Ling

Ishan Sharma is a Herbert Scoville Jr. Peace Fellow of Emerging Technologies at the Federation of American Scientists and a Project Advisor at the Day One Project. He holds a B.S. from Cornell University and has studied jurisprudence and international human rights law at the University of Oxford. At FAS, Ishan leads a project on Emerging Technologies and International Security, which is currently focused on countering digital authoritarianism. Part of this effort has involved interviews with representatives from the NYU Policing Project, Palantir Technologies, the Oakland Privacy Advisory Commission, the DC Metropolitan Police Department, and 40 other stakeholders for his forthcoming multi-stakeholder report on a more responsible, liberal-democratic alternative to surveillance. He has been published on China's strategic exports in the political economy of AI surveillance and co-authored a prize-winning piece for the 2020 Security Models "Era of Covid" policy competition at New America among other publications.