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Cybertarianism: The future of freedom in the Internet Age

Date & Time:
16:30 - 18:00,
Tuesday 24 November, 2009


Can authoritarianism survive the Internet? Yes, it can. Authoritarianism is surviving and even thriving in the Internet age. This fact has real implications not only for democratic movements around the world, but also for mature democracies like the United Kingdom and the United States.

Since its creation 40 years ago, we have come to depend on the Internet to conduct our careers, our jobs, our politics, and the most intimate aspects of our lives. It has become a critical global resource. It can be a liberating force, but it can also be used as an opaque extension of incumbent power. Recent global trends are skewing increasingly in the latter direction. While China’s ever-sophisticated system of censorship and surveillance is ‘exhibit A’ in that regard, we can see disturbing trends in a range of political systems from Thailand to Iran to the United Kingdom.

A free and open Internet is arguably a prerequisite for free and open society in the 21st Century. Yet policy-making and activism focused at the national level are proving inadequate and sometimes counter-productive in addressing the fundamental threats to human rights and civil liberties on a globally interconnected network. New thinking, new advocacy strategies, and new approaches to global governance are only just beginning to emerge. The time has come for global ‘netizens’ to assert stewardship over the Internet as a shared global resource.


Rebecca McKinnon

Open Society Institute Fellow 2009, and cofounder of Global Voices

Rebecca MacKinnon is a 2009 Open Society Institute fellow and is presently writing a book about China and the global Internet. She is cofounder of Global Voices, a global citizen media network. Fluent in Mandarin Chinese, she was formerly a CNN bureau chief in Beijing and in Tokyo. Since 2007 MacKinnon has been based in Hong Kong, teaching online journalism and conducting research about the Chinese Internet at the University of Hong Kong’s Journalism and Media Studies Centre. While there, she launched Creative Commons Hong Kong. She is also a founding member of the Global Network Initiative, a multi-stakeholder initiative for free expression and privacy. From 2004-06 she was a Research Fellow at Harvard’s Berkman Center for Internet and Society. For more information about MacKinnon and her work see her blog.

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