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Media Braces For Post-Snowden

October 22, 2013

By Michael Depp

ATLANTA — When The Guardian broke the story on Edward Snowden’s National Security Agency revelations, it almost certainly drew a hash mark on the timeline of journalism’s history.

How things will be different now on the other side of that mark was the subject of apprehensive speculation on Saturday at the Online News Association’s annual conference. There, Janine Gibson, the Guardian’s U.S. editor, heralded a world of more intense surveillance and more strenuous journalistic countermeasures.

Gibson points to the necessity in her newsroom of using encrypted — and often crash-prone — technologies to communicate between editors and reporters as the enormity of Snowden’s story became apparent. It has now become a standard way to protect sources and information for the paper.

“It’s a very different way of working,” Gibson says. “This is clearly how we will continue to operate. You may as well keep the discipline of secure communication.”

Micah Lee, a technologist for the Electronic Frontier Foundation, cautions reporters that any phone or digital communications stand to be surveilled. “Right now what we do on the Internet or say on the phone is an open book,” he says. Encryption “makes that book way more closed,” but still isn’t perfect enough to ensure government eavesdropping might not occur.

Lee says that journalists should start familiarizing themselves with encryption technologies such asTOR right away if they want to be able to ensure apprehensive sources that it’s safe to talk with them.

Legally speaking, journalists have spotty cover at best, says Nibiha Syed, a media lawyer (theGuardian is a client) and founder of DroneU. Although there are shield laws for journalists in 49 states — but not yet a federal shield law — she points to The New York Times’ James Risen as a cautionary tale. State laws are key to holding back more infringement on journalists’ confidential relationships with sources, she says, but “if you come into the crosshairs of a prosecution, there’s not a lot you can do.”

Syed advises every newsroom, no matter how small, to have access to either in-house counsel or a consulting attorney, and Gibson emphasized that her own newsroom only has 54 people, albeit access to the Guardian’s much larger U.K. resources.

“But we couldn’t call them because we couldn’t use the phone” as the Guardian’s reporters were working with Snowden, Gibson recalls. Read more at NetNewsCheck.

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