Last week, the Committee to Protect Journalists' Internet Advocacy team was in Valencia, Spain, for the first Circumvention Tech Festival: a mashup of journalists, activists, technologists, and human rights defenders united by a desire to fight censorship and surveillance. More than 500 registered participants from 40 countries shared their skills, strategies, and experiences in combating these global challenges.
For journalists to work safely they must be able to protect themselves and their sources, which is why encryption is such a vital tool. On February 10, the Committee to Protect Journalists and the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press submitted a joint letter to the U.N. urging it to ensure that long-standing freedom of expression and privacy principles also protect reporters' use of encryption and anonymity-protecting technologies.
The U.K. prides itself on its commitment to free expression, but the latest revelations of surveillance of journalists and calls by Britain's Prime Minister, David Cameron, to ban secure messaging belie the country's drift toward a more restrictive environment for the press. The revelations further underscore the threat surveillance by Western democracies poses to journalism, a threat that prompted the Committee to Protect Journalists' Right to Report in the Digital Age campaign.
The revelation that the FBI sent a fake Associated Press story containing malware to a teenager suspected of making bomb threats has brought "spear phishing" back into the public consciousness. The technique, which combines malicious software with social cues tailored to the target, has been used by state and non-state actors to attack journalists and rights advocates, including the Committee to Protect Journalists. Spear phishing can be devastatingly effective, but there are simple steps journalists can take to protect their work, themselves, and their sources.
I was only supposed to be in Miami for the briefest of layovers. I was en route to San Francisco from São Paulo in Brazil, where I had participated in the NETMundial Conference on Internet governance along with hundreds of members of civil society, technology executives, journalists, and government officials. It was going to be a tight connection even if things had gone smoothly, but I was not free to leave. Someone wanted to ask me some questions, noted the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officer holding my well-worn passport. Go stand against that wall, he told me, dropping my passport into a box attached to his booth: someone will be by to collect you.
Earlier today, the Brookings Institution hosted a discussion with FBI Director James B. Comey, who made the case that steps taken by Apple and Google to protect user privacy were damaging the FBI's efforts to fight crime and safeguard U.S. national security. The discussion was due to take place hours before Apple launched its latest iPads, which benefit from the updated security features of the new iOS 8 operating system.
Last week's announcement by Eric Holder that he will resign as Attorney General marks what will hopefully be the beginning of the end of a perplexingly dark period for press freedom in the U.S. As Holder seeks to solidify his legacy, in part based on important civil rights reforms that he helped realize, the aggression with which his Justice Department has gone after journalists and their sources bears considerable reflection. With the nomination of a new attorney general looming, now is the time for a national conversation about just what values the chief law enforcement officer of the United States should seek to uphold.
On Sunday, the U.S. Transportation Security Administration announced a new policy requiring that travelers to the United States turn on their devices at the request of airport security personnel. Devices that cannot be powered on will be barred from the aircraft, and passengers in possession of such devices may also be subjected to additional screening. While a number of commenters have lamented the policy change on the grounds that it is likely to cause confusion and otherwise inconvenience passengers, the move could also aggravate the risks journalists already face when traveling with sensitive materials such as notes, unpublished photographs, or information about sources.
Journalists who use the popular encryption tool TrueCrypt can relax. There is no evidence of any new or dangerous vulnerability in TrueCrypt, despite a recent scare over its integrity.
Do you believe the free flow of information must be protected? Sign the #RightToReport petition and demand that President Obama immediately:
1. Issue a presidential policy directive prohibiting the hacking and surveillance of journalists and media organizations.
2. Limit aggressive prosecutions that ensnare journalists and intimidate whistleblowers.
3. Prevent the harassment of journalists at the U.S. border.
Or click here to see the full petition, and join leading journalists like Christiane Amanpour, The Guardian’s Alan Rusbridger, Editor of the AP Kathleen Carroll, and Arianna Huffington in signing on.