Surveillance Shuts Down Journalism: “Fewer Sources are Willing to Talk”

Virtru. Privacy, Secured.

As reported by the Washington Post a recent report has found that reports of government surveillance are hampering journalism – No one’s willing to talk to reporters anymore. This is changing the way reporters work and many are turning to client-side encryption tools like Virtru.

The problem is that governments are using surveillance technology to go after anonymous leaks, and this is stopping whistleblowers at the source. Imagine a 20th century without “leaks” from government employees: no Watergate, no Pentagon Papers. Reporters make it their job to get information from sources, and, quite often, these sources are whistleblowers and people leaking information their bosses would rather they didn’t. This is how the system works, and if it stops working our governments will be less accountable.  In fact, some have called anonymous public leaks an “ethical tool of the public servant.”

Why are Sources Keeping Quiet?

A year and a half ago these sources didn’t understand the magnitude of surveillance tools available to governments, and even if they did many thought it unlikely that governments would single them out for surveillance. According to Human Rights Watch and the American Civil Liberties Union, two factors have affected journalism by discouraging whistleblowers and sources from speaking up, they are:

  • The aggressiveness with which the current US administration has prosecuted people who leak classified information.
  • The revelations stemming from Edward Snowden’s leaks that outline the full scope of the NSA’s data gathering capabilities.

In summary, the respondents to the joint HRW/ACLU report mentioned some interesting changes to the way they do business according to this article from the Washington Post:

  • Reporters are using client-side encryption tools.
  • Reporters are opting for face-to-face meetings instead of electronic communications.
  • Reporters are calling many sources in an attempt to mask the identity of a single source.
  • Reporters are asking questions on phone calls designed to identify participants as US citizens to eavesdropping intelligence analysts.

What can Journalists Do?

At Virtru we think this is about more than just journalists adopting client-side encryption.  For client-side encryption to be a force for greater privacy we all need to start sending more secure emails that can be encrypted at the source and decrypted only by the intended recipient.  

  • If you are corresponding with a journalist you need to encrypt your emails ASAP.
  • If you are a journalist who communicates with sources you’d like to protect, start using encryption for every email you send.

We all need to take back control of our own personal privacy, and we think that using Virtru is the first step.

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