Rebecca MacKinnon

Rebecca MacKinnon

Journalist and activist; Co-founder, Global Voices Online
Joined on July 22, 2005
Total Post Views: 597,729


Rebecca MacKinnon is a journalist, free speech activist, and expert on Chinese Internet censorship. She is currently writing a book about the future of freedom in the Internet age. In September she will join the New America Foundation as a Bernard Schwartz Senior Fellow, focusing on the intersection of the Internet, human rights, and foreign policy.

MacKinnon is cofounder of Global Voices Online, a global citizen media network. She also 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, MacKinnon 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 as 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 began her study of the Chinese Internet 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. 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 or Information Technology Policy.

MacKinnon writes about her work and ideas at and is @rmack on Twitter.

Except where otherwise noted, all postings by Rebecca MacKinnon on CircleID are licensed under a Creative Commons License.

Featured Blogs Added ICP License Number on Monday

Beijing News is reporting (in Chinese) that one of their reporters noticed on Monday that the landing page has added an ICP license number dated 2010. The license number had not been there before. ... The report did not clarify whether the addition of the ICP license means that the Chinese authorities have renewed's ICP license... more

Google’s China Troubles Continue; Congress Examines U.S. Investment in Chinese Censorship

In his latest blog post, Google's Chief Legal Officer David Drummond reports that Chinese authorities aren't happy with the automatic redirection of to Hong Kong. They are threatening not to renew Google's Internet Content Provider license, which is required to legally operate any kind of Internet business in China. more

“One Google, One World; One China, No Google”

China's insomniac twitterati were on fire this afternoon U.S. time, powered no doubt by much caffeine and sugar in the the wee hours of the morning in China. Half an hour before Google's David Drummond posted his announcement that is now effectively operating from, Guangzhou-based open source programmer @LEMONed broke the
news that was being redirected to the Hong Kong service. Reacting to the news, @wentommy quipped: "One Google, One World; One China, No Google." more

Google Buzzkill

The launch of Google Buzz, the new social networking service tied to GMail, was a fiasco to say the least. Its default settings exposed people's e-mail contacts in frightening ways with serious privacy and human rights implications. Evgeny Morozov, who specializes in analyzing how authoritarian regimes use the Internet, put it bluntly last Friday in a blog post... more

Google, China, and the Future of Freedom on the Global Internet

Maybe it's because I was schooled in political science, not computer science. But frankly I've been surprised by the extent to which some respected commentators have focused on trashing Google for lacking purity of motive. As if that were some kind of brilliant revelation. Of course Google's actions are motivated by self-interest. Self-interest is a complicated thing, and isn't only financial... But let's be honest with ourselves. How many people on the planet do anything for 100% selfless reasons? If having a free, open and just society depends on purity of motive, God help us all. more

Google Puts Its Foot Down

Google's announcement that it will "review" its business operations in China and is no longer willing to censor its Chinese search engine,, is generating a range of reaction in China. Conversation over at the #googlecn hashtag on Twitter -- created shortly after the announcement -- has been raging fast and furious. more

China Tightens Internet Control in the Name of Fighting Porn, Piracy, and Cybercrime

As the year draws to a close, China's blocking of overseas websites - including Facebook, Twitter, and thousands of other websites including my blog - is more extensive and technically more sophisticated than ever. Controls over domestic content have also been tightening. People who work for Chinese Internet companies continue to complain that they remain under heavy pressure... more

China Isn’t Happy With the IGF

On the final day of a four-day meeting, most government representatives expressed support for renewing the Internet Governance Forum's five-year mandate which ends next year. China did not. Chen Yin, the head of the Chinese delegation to the Internet Governance Forum, said yesterday that the IGF's mandate should not be continued without reforms. more

Muzzled by the United Nations

The Internet Governance Forum is winding down today in Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt. There have been a lot of very constructive conversations in workshops and panels over the past four days about how to advance security, privacy, child protection, AND human rights and free expression on the Internet. Unfortunately, the biggest headline coming out of the forum so far has been an incident on Sunday... more

Is America Getting More Like China?

Since Obama became President -- and yes, I voted for him -- there has been a great deal of optimism and energy around the idea that the Internet can be used to improve or "reboot" our democracy. The Administration has hired some great people to work on making government more open and transparent. This is all great. But how much good will all of this nifty e-government do for American democracy if citizens' rights to privacy and free expression are not also fiercely defended? more

China’s Censorship Arms Race Escalates

Last week the China Digital Times reported that a photo (shown in the post) has been making the rounds in Chinese blogs and chatrooms. It is an image of a "computer science float" for Thursday's National Day parade, onto which somebody has photoshopped a screenshot of the Internet Explorer error message familiar to anybody who has ever tried to access a blocked website in China: "This page cannot be displayed." more

ICANN, Civil Society, and Free Speech

Gordon Crovitz's Op-ed in the Wall Street Journal about the relationship between ICANN and the future of free speech quotes me a couple of times... Crovitz emailed me last week when he was researching his column. I was somewhat more critical of ICANN's status quo in our exchange than in the quotes he ended up using. Following are my full answers, emailed to him on Thursday. more

ICANN and Free Speech

Upon being appointed as ICANN's new CEO in Sydney, Rod Beckstrom gave a rousing speech in which he stressed the vital importance of free expression on the Internet... Many ordinary, powerless people are indeed willing to fight and die. But is ICANN going to help them? Or at very least make sure that their decisions won't help those who want to muzzle them? more

Green Dam is Breached… Now What?

As a number of China hands predicted, the Chinese government has postponed its mandate requiring that all computers sold in China must include the Green Dam -Youth Escort censorware by today. Yesterday after the news broke I told the Financial Times: "There's been this impression in the internet industry that when the Chinese government makes a demand, they have to roll over and play dead. The lesson here is that's not necessarily the case." more

China’s Censorship Blowback

I'm not sure what the Chinese government is thinking, or whether certain parts of certain ministries and party apparatus have gotten completely out of control. Until recently, it had seemed to me that the Chinese government was managing its censorship system with surprising success... But this month, something shifted. It's unclear whether the shift is long-lasting or just temporary madness until the PRC's 60th anniversary on October 1st. more

China’s “Green Dam Youth Escort” Software

Today's Wall Street Journal has a provocative story headlined 'China Squeezes PC Makers: Beijing Is Set to Require Web Filter That Would Block Government-Censored Sites'... According to a press release dated June 8th China time, after a period of testing and evaluation, the "Green Dam Youth Escort" software received government blessing in April to be made available for free public download. The press release says that the software has been downloaded over 3 million times since the end of March and is being used by approximately 2279 schools... more

China Blocks Twitter, Flickr, Bing, Hotmail, Windows Live, etc. Ahead of Tiananmen 20th Anniversary

On Herdict, the global crowd-sourcing censorship-tracking website, people are reporting censorship of Twitter on networks all over China… with some people adding frustrated commentary, often including the f-word. You can also see blockage reports for Hotmail, Windows Live, Bing, Flickr, YouTube, Blogspot... more

China Calls for an End to the Internet Governance Forum

There's been a global argument going on for some time now over how the Internet should be governed. Many governments, including China but also many others, are not happy that the "root" of the Internet is controlled by the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), which ultimately answers to the U.S. Department of Commerce. In 2005, there were proposals from various countries to move Internet governance from ICANN to a United Nations body of some kind... But there was no consensus. Human rights groups were rightly concerned that giving governments like China and Iran greater say in Internet governance would lead to more censorship and the elimination of privacy and anonymity. more

Internet Control Without “Firewalls”

Open Society Fellow Evgeny Morozov and I have written an Op-Ed for Project Syndicate about how the future of Internet control is not "firewall" censorship but more subtle forms of manipulation and pressure. Recognizing that censorship is too heavy handed and imperfect to be successful on its own, the Chinese government's Internet strategy is placing increasing emphasis on corporate self-censorship... more

Ladies and Gentlemen, China’s Netizen Day…

Just after the government announces a crackdown on Internet smut. Yesterday, they announced plans for "Netizen Day" on September 14th, which apparently marks 15 years since the first e-mail message was sent from China in 1987. The new celebratory day (I don't think it's an official holiday) was unveiled at an official ceremony presided over by Chinese government officials and Internet execs, many of whose companies - including Google, Sina, and Sohu, who were named in the smut crackdown just 24 hours before. more

China’s Latest Internet Crackdown

Seven different government agencies, including the Ministry of Public Security and the State Council Information Office declared war on Internet smut today. 19 Internet companies, including Google, Baidu, Sina, and others, were cited for "violating public morality and harming the physical and mental health of youth and young people."... Another Chinese language report, including video of a TV report with footage of computer servers being confiscated by police at an unknown location and unknown time... more

The Web’s Benevolent Dictators

Jeffrey Rosen has a great article in the New York Times Magazine this weekend titled Google's Gatekeepers. In it he deals with the question of whether we are becoming too overly dependent on a few big web companies like Google – and whether it's wise over the long run for us to trust their team of (currently) very nice, well-meaning people who are trying hard to do the right thing when faced with government censorship demands and surveillance pressures. He writes... more

The Global Network Initiative

After more than two years of work behind closed doors, the Global Network Initiative is launching this week. That's the corporate code of conduct on free speech and privacy I've been talking about in generalities for quite some time. By midnight Tuesday U.S. East Coast time, the full set of documents and list of initial signatories will be made publicly available at more

Skype Messes Up, Badly

The Open Net Initiative's Information Warfare Monitor project has published a stunning report by "Hacktivist" Nart Villeneuve titled: "Breaching Trust: An analysis of surveillance and security practices on China's TOM-Skype platform." It has been covered by both the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal... more

Chinese Internet Research Conference: Getting beyond “Iron Curtain 2.0”

At last week's Chinese Internet Research Conference, much discussion of the "myths and realities" of the Chinese Internet revolved around images, metaphors, and paradigms. In his award-winning paper titled The Great Firewall as Iron Curtain 2.0, UPenn PhD Student Lokman Tsui argued that "our use of the Great Firewall metaphor leads to blind spots that obscure and limit our understanding of internet censorship in the People's Republic." more

China’s New Domain Names: Lost in Translation

This morning I got a bunch of alarmist messages from friends asking about this English-language People's Daily article titled: China adds top-level domain names. The paragraph that's freaking people out is: "Under the new system, besides "CN", three Chinese TLD names "CN", "COM" and "NET" are temporarily set. It means Internet users don't have to surf the Web via the servers under the management of ICANN..." Not for the first time, it appears that the People's Daily's English translation is very misleading. more

A Balkanized Internet Future?

Joi Ito has an important post [also featured on CircleID] on how the internet is in danger of becoming balkanized into separate "internets". He's not the only person who's concerned. Greg Walton worries about Regime Change on the Internet. My friend Tim Wu, a law professor specializing in international trade and intellectual property, has written an article for Slate: The Filtered Future: China's bid to divide the Internet... more

Topic Interests

DNSIPv6 TransitionPrivacyInternet ProtocolWirelessCybersecurityCensorshipTelecomPolicy & RegulationInternet GovernanceWebNew TLDsDomain NamesICANNAccess ProvidersMultilinguismUDRPLawVoIP

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