CPJ Journalist Security Blog

USA


It is an extraordinarily difficult time to be a journalist. Nearly every month, the digital security landscape shifts--new surveillance concerns are unearthed and freshly drafted laws are introduced that seek to curb freedom of expression under the guise of national security.

One way for journalists to build more secure newsrooms and safer networks would be for more of them to learn and practice digital hygiene and information security. But that's not enough. We also need journalists to stand together across borders, not just as an industry, but as a community, against government surveillance.

The Obama administration, in its attempt to control government leaks, has issued subpoenas and conducted unprecedented surveillance of journalists, as CPJ documented in a report this week. But the United States is hardly the only democratic nation that has been trying to unveil reporters' sources and other professional secrets.

Border crossings have long posed a risk for journalists. In many nations, reporters and photographers alike have been subjected to questioning and having their electronic devices searched, if not also copied. But more recently, protecting electronically stored data has become a greater concern for journalists, including those who are U.S. citizens, upon entering or leaving the United States.

The flash or, more precisely, the lack of one, gave the policeman away.

Over a year ago, on a steamy Saturday night in the Bronx, New York City Police Officer Michael Ackermann claimed that a photojournalist had set off his flash repeatedly in the officer's face, blinding and distracting him, as he was arresting a teenage girl. So he arrested Robert Stolarik, a freelancer photographer for The New York Times, on charges of obstructing government administration and resisting arrest.

Let's be clear: Everything journalists do in the digital world is open to scrutiny by suspicious minds because that's the way intelligence agencies work. If state eavesdroppers didn't make use of this amazing opportunity they wouldn't be very good at their job.

The two websites at the University of Texas at Austin, at first blush, seemed to have been unlikely targets for attack. The Knight Center for Journalism in the Americas and its blog cover news about journalism, press freedom and journalist safety throughout the Western hemisphere, with an emphasis on trends in Latin America. The website of the International Symposium for Online Journalism provides information about meetings and other professional issues. Both websites were shut down for two weeks last month in a targeted cyber-attack.

An Iraqi journalist walks past a wall of photos of journalists killed during the Iraq War. (AP/Samir Mizban)

The U.S.-led war in Iraq claimed the lives of a record number of journalists and challenged some commonly held perceptions about the risks of covering conflict. Far more journalists, for example, were murdered in targeted killings in Iraq than died in combat-related circumstances. Here, on the 10th anniversary of the start of the war, is a look inside the data collected by CPJ.

Ex-CIA officer John Kiriakou has pleaded guilty to leaking information to a journalist. (AP/Cliff Owen)

Few cases better underscore the need for digital security among journalists. On Tuesday, ex-CIA officer John Kiriakou pleaded guilty to leaking the identity of another CIA operative to Matthew Cole, a journalist formerly with an ABC News investigative team. In a 2007 interview with ABC, Kiriakou became the first CIA official to confirm that waterboarding had been used on Al-Qaeda suspects.

Journalists view the stage for the coming Republican National Convention. (Reuters/Scott Audette)

With up to 15,000 journalists expected in Tampa, Fla., for next week's Republican National Convention, some reporters and photographers will undoubtedly encounter problems concerning access to news events and coverage of related protests. Several journalism organizations have compiled resource materials and tips for journalists headed to the GOP gathering, which starts August 27, and the Democratic convention that begins September 3. Here are some of those resources:

Journalists protest the murder of a Mexican journalist earlier this year. (AFP/Sergio Hernandez)

Using guns, grenades, explosives, and other deadly means, criminals have assaulted four Mexican newsrooms in less than six weeks. One of the country's top journalists, Lydia Cacho, was the target of a chilling death threat last month. Journalists in Veracruz have gone missing or been killed this year. Press fatalities in Mexico remain among the highest in the world, leading to vast self-censorship. And the perpetrators? They are not only well organized and heavily armed, they enjoy near-complete impunity for their attacks on the press. Mexican lawmakers began to address the crisis this year, but now they risk losing the momentum.

Recent Tags

CPJ Journalist Security Guide

Active Discussions
Most Emailed
Blog Archives