MacKinnon is currently a Bernard Schwartz Senior Fellow at the New America Foundation in Washington, DC, where she conducts research, writing and advocacy on global Internet policy, free expression, and the impact of digital technologies on human rights. She is also considered a leading expert on Chinese Internet censorship. Her first book, Consent of the Networked: The Worldwide Struggle for Internet Freedom, was published by Basic Books in January 2012.
She is also the co-founder of Global Voices Online, a global citizen media network. She serves on the Boards of Directors of the Committee to Protect Journalists and the Global Network Initiative, a multi-stakeholder initiative to advance principles of freedom of expression and privacy in the Information and Communications Technology (ICT) sector.
Fluent in Mandarin Chinese, she worked as a journalist for CNN in Beijing for nine years, serving as CNN’s Beijing Bureau Chief and Correspondent from 1998-2001 and then moved to Japan where she was CNN’s Tokyo Bureau Chief and Correspondent from 2001-03. From 2004-06, she was a Research Fellow at Harvard's Berkman Center for Internet and Society, where she started researching Chinese Internet censorship and corporate responsibility issues, in addition to launching Global Voices Online. In 2007 and 2008 she served on the faculty of the University of Hong Kong's Journalism and Media Studies Centre, where she taught online journalism and conducted research on Chinese Internet censorship. During that time she was also Project Lead for Creative Commons Hong Kong In 2009 she continued her research and writing as an Open Society Institute Fellow, and in the Spring of 2010 she was a Visiting Fellow at Princeton’s Center for Information Technology Policy.
Rebecca MacKinnon: I'm actually a founding member of something called the Global Network Initiative that is trying to get companies to sign on to a set of human rights principles. Our argument is that if companies work together with human rights groups and others who have been kind of thinking about these issues from a public interest perspective and work together on what are the best practices, what are the strategies to kind of push back when governments are basically over-stretching . . . and when governments are trying to use companies to control citizens, there are ways that companies can push back.
You’re seeing some companies like Google, for instance, they published something called “The Transparency Report” where they are revealing the number of requests that governments around the world are making for user information and they’re revealing the number of demands they’re getting from governments to remove content or block content around the world. And that’s helping people understand what their governments are doing and how their governments are trying to manipulate these internet companies to control people’s speech.
And so I really think that all companies ought to be much more transparent and open about the demands that they’re receiving from governments so that internet users understand more what’s going on, and if we understand more what’s going on we can make more intelligent decisions about, you know, maybe there is some things we don’t want to send through email because we might understand that the government might access that information. Maybe it’s better to send a letter with certain information. . . . And we need to be just more aware of what’s going on so that we can make intelligent choices about how to communicate in ways that keep our information private when we really need it to be.
Directed / Produced by Jonathan Fowler & Elizabeth Rodd
We have rights that we need to defend, but we also have responsibilities just like when we walk down the street.