I've just finished Rebecca MacKinnon's Consent of the Networked, and now I'm kicking myself for letting it languish in my review pile for as long as I did. It is an absolutely indispensable account of the way that technology both serves freedom and removes it. MacKinnon is co-founder of the Global Voices project, and a director of the Global Network Initiative, and is one of the best-informed, clearest commentators on issues of networks and freedom from a truly global perspective.
MacKinnon does a fantastic job of tying her theory and analysis to real-world stories. She illustrates how governments are figuring out how to use networks to take freedom away, to control debate, to find and crush dissent. She shows how Internet corporations — even the ones with a good track-record on protecting their users — are prone to cooperating with the worst, most repressive instincts of governments (including supposedly liberal western governments).
But she also describes how technology contributes to freedom, and how savvy use of technology, combined with activism in the realm of Internet governance, lawmaking, and corporate affairs can turn technology into a force for liberation, accountability and freedom. She teases out the good and the bad of technology, working from recent examples like the Arab Spring uprisings, and names names and cites facts and figures when it comes to companies and governments who worked to undo the liberating power of technology.
Most of all, MacKinnon lays out a roadmap for tipping the technological balance towards freedom. She describes how diverse groups, including ones she works with, provide opportunities for all of us to work for positive change, in our capacity as citizens, employees of corporations, members of government, and as clued-in techies.
MacKinnon is a realist, but never a cynic, and provides a much-needed straight-shooting, levelheaded account of how the Internet changes power-relationships. This book should be read by anyone who cares about freedom today and in the decades to come.