Posted by Kalyani M. on Jun 12, 2013
From the Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act to recent news of governmental spying on reporters, legal snooping on citizens has become all too commonplace in recent news. After the 9/11 attacks, the NSA directed its surveillance programs on private citizens. This monitoring of citizens has scandalously been applied to reporters, threatening America’s free press and whistleblowers across the country.
In 2009, the Justice Department began investigating potential sources of leaks on North Korea. In the process, the government investigators seized the phone records and emails of an American journalist suspected of holding classified information. Chief Washington correspondent for Fox News, James Rosen, was implicated in the investigation through two months of obtained phone records. According to First Amendment lawyer Charles Tobin, Search warrants like these have a severe chilling effect on the free flow of important information to the public…That’s a very dangerous road to go down.” In its investigation, the Justice Department subpoenaed the records of at least 20 phone lines from AP offices in New York, Connecticut, and Washington. First Amendment watchdog groups, AP executives, and advocates of a free press have strongly criticized the investigator’s actions, calling on the Justice Department for greater transparency.
According to the director of the ACLU’s Speech, Privacy and Technology Project, Ben Wizner, “Never in the history of the Espionage Act has the government accused a reporter of violating the law for urging a source to disclose information…This is a dangerous precedent that threatens to criminalize routine investigative journalism.” In the affidavit, FBI Agent Reginald Reyes was able to obtain a warrant to investigate Rosen’s phone records by convincing a judge that the reporter had acted as a co-conspirator in violation of the Espionage Act. This is the first time that the Obama administration has accused a U.S. journalist of violating the Espionage Act, which is what Army intelligence analyst Bradley Manning was accused of in his notorious leak to WikiLeaks. In addition to Rosen, the Justice Department also obtained the phone records of two White House staffers and five more numbers tied to Fox News. Ryan Lizza of The New Yorker recently uncovered a partially redacted list showing over 30 phone numbers with seized records.
Outrage from the scandal has spilled across wide sectors from journalists to legislators, prompting bipartisan lawmakers in the House to unveil a bill limiting such violations of privacy in the future. According to one of the bill’s sponsors, Representative Ted Poe (R – Texas), the seizure of journalist phone records and emails “was nothing short of, in my opinion, a massive intimidation fishing expedition….We believe it’s time for Congress to intervene and take action to preserve and protect the First Amendment that we all believe in. So we should revise and revisit U.S. law and require in all cases judicial review before the government can secretly investigate those who keep the public informed.” The bipartisan bill is called the Free Flow of Information Act of 2013 and is backed by Ted Poe, Representative Trey Radel (R – Florida), Representative John Conyers Jr. (D – Mich.), Representative Sheila Jackson Lee (D – Texas), and Representative Jerrold Nadler (D – N.Y.). The Free Flow of Information Act of 2013 would require the Department of Justice to demonstrate a viable national security threat and that all other investigative options have been exhausted before obtaining a warrant for seizing the private phone and email records of journalists.
But in the meantime, journalists can still protect their sensitive information by taking precautionary measures. According to Trevor Timm at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, In the digital age, where the government can use all sorts of surveillance to conduct leak investigations, it’s very important for journalists to be pro-active about fortifying their digital security. Poor opsec [operations security] can end up exposing a source and leading to even more of these investigations. The Committee to Protect Journalists’ Journalist Security Guide is an excellent place to start. It addresses concerns faced by journalists working inside the United States and internationally.”
Secure Email Storage
Along with the steps found in the Journalist Security Guide, investigative reporters can keep leaked information and any sensitive files safe with private cloud services. Many cloud services on the market have wide security gaps that leave sensitive data wide open to third party attacks and governmental snooping. But for SpiderOak, this private cloud service provider offers the full benefits of cloud storage along with 100% data privacy for journalists and whistleblowers.
As for just how SpiderOak protects sensitive user data, the service offers two-factor password authentication and 256-bit AES encryption so that files and passwords stay private. Two-factor authentication is just like the process used by some banking services that require a PIN as an extra precaution along with a password. Through SpiderOak, users that select two-factor authentication must submit their private code through SMS as well as an individual encrypted password. Journalists can store and sync sensitive information with complete privacy, because this cloud service has absolutely “zero-knowledge” of user data. Plaintext encryption keys are only stored on the user’s chosen devices, so journalists can keep rest easy knowing their data is protected. SpiderOak’s private cloud services are available for journalists on Windows, Mac, and Linux platforms, along with Android and iOS mobile devices, allowing for flexible solutions for reporters in the field.