Framing the Pandemic and the Rise of the Digital Surveillance State

Keywords: digital, surveillance, privacy, human rights, framing, regime types, democratic backsliding


The pandemic caused by the SARS-COV-2 virus has provided a pretext for many countries of the world to extend executive powers, and their digital surveillance capacities in particular. Aiming to identify how different regimes frame digital surveillance, this paper employs qualitative content analysis to compare the government framing of digital surveillance in India, Israel and Singapore. Although due to their different working dynamics, one would expect democracies and autocracies to frame digital surveillance in different ways, our findings reveal an overlap between liberal and illiberal rhetoric across the cases and point to unexplored illiberal peculiarities within the category of ‘democratic backsliders.’ We conclude by cautiously speculating how heightened extents of digital surveillance and tracking may become the new normal across regime types, and how governments might exploit and recycle these same frames to justify digital surveillance after the COVID-19 crisis is over.

Author Biographies

Ahmed Maati, Eberhard-Karls-Universität Tübingen, Germany,

Ahmed Maati is a PhD candidate, a research associate, and a junior lecturer at the department of Political Science at Eberhard-Karls-Universität Tübingen. His research foci include identity and comparative politics of the Middle East, theories of the state, and digital politics. In 2012, Mr. Maati was part of the Volkswagen project “Arab Youth: From Engagement to Inclusion?”, in which he conducted field work in Egypt. He concluded his Master’s degree in 2015 in the joint program “Comparative and Middle East Politics and Society” (CMEPS) of the American University in Cairo and the Eberhard-Karls-University of Tübingen.

Žilvinas Švedkauskas, Eberhard-Karls-Universität Tübingen, Germany,

Žilvinas Švedkauskas is a PhD candidate at Eberhard-Karls-Universität Tübingen and a Bucerius Fellow of the "Trajectories of Change" programme at ZEIT-Stiftung Ebelin und Gerd Bucerius, specializing in comparative politics and autocratization. His primary research focus lies in constitutional change, digital transformation, and mechanisms of co-optation in the Middle East, Africa, and the post-Soviet space.

Most read articles by the same author(s)