While the Internet can be a profoundly empowering force, it will not fulfill its potential unless we recognize and address a number of "inconvenient truths." Authoritarian regimes are evolving and adapting to the Internet age. China is "exhibit A" in this regard, and has become a model for others to emulate. With the help of multinational companies, some non-democratic and quasi-democratic governments are working to shape the Internet's architecture, coordination, and legal governance in a direction more conducive to their survival. Other even more "inconvenient truths" involve democracies themselves: democratically elected lawmakers in a range of countries are passing laws to address immediate domestic problems of crime, terror, and copyright theft, but are doing so by implementing legal norms and technical standards that both enable and help to justify censorship and surveillance in repressive countries. These "inconvenient truths" lead to complicated questions about the future of authoritarianism, democracy, and sovereignty in the Internet age which challenge many 20th-century assumptions.
Rebecca MacKinnon is a Visiting Fellow at Princeton University's Center for Information Technology Policy where she is working on a book about China, the Internet, and the future of freedom in the Internet age.
MacKinnon is cofounder of Global Voices Online, an award-winning global citizen media network that amplifies online citizen voices from around the world. She is a founding member of the Global Network Initiative, a multi-stakeholder initiative to advance principles of freedom of expression and privacy among Internet and telecommunications companies. She is also on the board of the Committee to Protect Journalists.
Fluent in Mandarin Chinese, MacKinnon has lived in China on and off since childhood. She worked for CNN in Beijing for nine years, serving as CNN's Beijing Bureau Chief and Correspondent from 1998-2001 and then as CNN's Tokyo Bureau Chief and Correspondent from 2001-03.
MacKinnon spent 2004-2006 as a Research Fellow at Harvard: first at the Shorenstein Center on the Press, Politics and Public Policy at the Kennedy School of Government, and then at the Berkman Center for Internet and Society.
In 2007 and 2008 she was Assistant Professor at the University of Hong Kong's Journalism and Media Studies Centre, teaching online journalism and conducting research on the Internet, China, censorship, and the role of technology companies promoting or preventing free expression. While there she launched Creative Commons Hong Kong. In 2009 she carried out research and writing on China, the Internet and freedom of expression as an Open Society Fellow, supported by a grant from the Open Society Institute.
MacKinnon graduated magna cum laude from Harvard College. Her blog can be found at: http://rconversation.blogs.com