syria surveillance|

Digital dominion: new report exposes the depth of Syrian regime’s mass surveillance

The Assad regime controls Syria’s online space, endangering the privacy, freedom of expression, access to information, and personal safety of millions of Syrians. Today, March 18, Access Now and UIC John Marshall Law School International Human Rights Clinic are launching Digital dominion: how the Syrian regime’s mass digital surveillance violates human rights.

This report documents the regime’s manipulation and control of the internet, the systematic surveillance of an entire population, tech companies’ compliance, and the devastating consequences for human rights. It is also an open call to the international community: Syrian authorities must be held to account. 

“The internet is neither free nor open in Syria,” said Dima Samaro, MENA Policy Analyst at Access Now. “The regime controls the online narrative, and surveils the population. Those inside Syria who dare speak out are silenced, while those outside looking in sit in silence, guilty of inaction. We hope Digital dominion is a catalyst, opening the world’s eyes to the urgent need to dismantle Syria’s online dictatorship.”

Digital dominion: how the Syrian regime’s mass digital surveillance violates human rights explores: 

  • The methodical expansion of Syria’s mass surveillance system, and the resulting arrests, torture, forced disappearances, and deaths.
  • The ongoing strengthening of invasive digital infrastructure, including:
    • Content filtering systems to combat political speech; 
    • Shutting down internet access and services, blocking websites critical of the government, and blocking popular websites and apps, such as YouTube, Facebook, and Skype;
    • Monitoring traffic and stockpiling data to identify and target individuals; and
    • Employing state-sponsored hacking group, the Syrian Electronic Army.
  • Big Tech’s role in implementing state-sponsored violations, including:
    • Blue Coat (now Symantec), Area SpA, and MTN selling technology and software directly to the regime, in full knowledge of its intended use;
    • Facebook regularly deleting accounts of critics, and those documenting human rights abuses; and
    • MTN Syria’s compliance of government orders to block text messages to undermine protest organizers.
  • The human rights violations, and their dangerous implications, faced by millions of Syrians everyday.

“Syria is a test case for how digital surveillance and control can be fatal — from forced disappearances, to the brutal torture and murder of those who dare to speak up,” said Marwa Fatafta, MENA Policy Manager at Access Now. “The Assad regime’s atrocities have been going on for a decade, but the world remains idle. We call on governments to take urgent action to stop impunity and bring an end to this repression, online and offline.”

This exploration of digital rights in Syria comes a decade after the Arab Spring uprising, and presents a reality parallel to the one people across the Middle East and North Africa have been fighting so hard to change since 2010 and 2011.

Read the full report.