Dean's Lecture

Power, Accountability, and Human Rights in a Networked World

Wednesday, February 17, 2016
4:10 pm to 5:30 pm
Rebecca MacKinnon

Power, Accountability, and Human Rights in a Networked World

Power, Accountability, and Human Rights in a Networked World

Sponsored by the School of Information and the Social Science Matrix

Will Facebook play a decisive role in the 2016 presidential primaries? Should Twitter be blamed for the rise of the Islamic State? Has the Chinese government successfully marginalized political dissent by controlling the companies that run China’s Internet? The fast-evolving power relationships — and clashes — among governments, corporations, and other non-state actors across digital networks pose fundamental challenges to how we think about governance, accountability, security, and human rights. Without new approaches to governance and accountability by public as well as private actors, the Internet of the future will no longer be compatible with the defense and protection of human rights. Nor will its users — or governments — be any more secure.

Fortunately a nascent ecosystem of efforts are now experimenting with new ways to hold governments, companies, and other actors accountable when they exercise power across global networks. One such effort is the Ranking Digital Rights project, which sets forth a framework for measuring information and communication technology (ICT) companies’ commitments, policies, and practices affecting users’ freedom of expression and privacy.

In this lecture, Ranking Digital Rights director Rebecca MacKinnon discusses the project’s Corporate Accountability Index as a concrete example how stakeholders around the globe are working to create new frameworks, mechanisms, and processes for holding power accountable and promoting the protection of human rights in a digitally networked world.

Rebecca MacKinnon is a leading advocate for Internet users’ rights to online freedom of expression and privacy around the world. She is author of the award-winning book Consent of the Networked: The Worldwide Struggle For Internet Freedom (Basic Books, 2012). Presently based at New America in Washington, D.C., she directs the Ranking Digital Rights project whose Corporate Accountability Index ranks the world’s most powerful Internet and telecommunications companies on policies and practices affecting users’ freedom of expression and privacy.

MacKinnon is co-founder of the citizen media network Global Voices, a borderless community of more than 800 writers, digital media experts, activists, and translators living around the world who give voice to the stories of marginalized and misrepresented communities and who advocate for the free expression rights of Internet users everywhere. She also serves on the board of the Committee to Protect Journalists and is a founding member of the Global Network Initiative, a multi-stakeholder organization focused on upholding principles of freedom of expression and privacy in the ICT sector.

Fluent in Mandarin Chinese, MacKinnon was CNN’s Beijing bureau chief from 1998 to 2001 and Tokyo bureau chief from 2001 to 2003. Since leaving CNN in 2004 she has held fellowships at Harvard’s Shorenstein Center on the Press and Public Policy, the Berkman Center for Internet and Society, the Open Society Foundations, and Princeton’s Center for Information Technology Policy. For two years in 2007–08 she served on the faculty of the University of Hong Kong’s Journalism and Media Studies Centre, and taught as an adjunct lecturer at the University of Pennsylvania Law School in Fall 2013. She is also a visiting affiliate at the Annenberg School for Communication’s Center for Global Communications Studies. MacKinnon received her AB magna cum laude from Harvard University and was a Fulbright scholar in Taiwan. She presently lives in Washington, D.C.

Last updated:

August 23, 2016