An incisive overview of the global struggle for Internet freedom.
MacKinnon, a former CNN journalist in Beijing and now online-policy guru at the New America Foundation, warns of the threats to online free expression and assembly at a time when our political lives are highly dependent on digital services and platforms largely owned by the private sector. The corporations and governments that govern cyberspace (“sovereigns operating without the consent of the networked”), she writes, are not being held sufficiently accountable. In her wide-ranging book, MacKinnon details the many ways in which governments, corporations and others are using the Internet--from empowering people to helping authoritarian dictators survive. In China in 2009, online citizen protests forced the government to drop murder charges against a waitress who inadvertently killed a Party official while fighting off his sexual advances. But the Internet also serves as a means of political control for the Chinese government, whose complex censorship system is able to distort the information on issues and events reaching people, including educated elites. Although China is the most advanced case, other authoritarian regimes take similar advantage of their power over private networks and platforms. In the United States, writes the author, present laws and policies make it “vastly easier for government agencies to track and access citizens’ private digital communications than it is for authorities to search or carry out surveillance of our physical homes, offices, vehicles, and mail.” With all governments now using technology to defend their interests, it is time to develop innovative ways to hold companies accountable for business, software and engineering choices. The author describes the hopeful emergence of a decentralized “transnational movement to defend and expand Internet freedom,” which might eventually shift the balance of power. At the same time, individuals must raise their awareness of online-freedom issues, becoming citizens of the Internet—“netizens”—rather than passive users.
An informed call to action by the “networked” to protect their rights.