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Journalists Suffering from Data Breaches

July 28, 2014

By Melissa Warten, Contributing Writer

The past few years have led to new information about the ways in which U.S. security officials can track people via phone, email or other electronic records. However, human rights groups continue to speak out in regard to how these revelations have made it harder for journalists to report on government actions.

A recent report by the Human Rights Watch and the American Civil Liberties Union noted a “chilling effect” on journalists born from the Obama administration’s prosecution of those who leak classified information, not to mention the access to leaked data made famous by former National Security Agency (NSA) systems analyst Edward Snowden. These groups demanded that the administration be more upfront about what data is collected from citizens and how it is used, and asked for increased protection for journalists and whistleblowers. The report interviewed 92 people—46 journalists, 42 lawyers, and four security officials.

While journalists are not frequently prosecuted for doing their jobs, their work has been forced to change with the new climate of data access. Take, for instance, the situation in Yemen in 2012, in which an AP story on a U.S. operation led to a federal investigation in which the government seized AP phone records to find the source of the story.  For journalists, fewer sources are willing to talk out of fear of consequence, so information is running dry. What’s more, journalists are having to use methods such as encryption technology, throwaway phones or calling multiple sources so as to protect the sources they ultimately cite. With the government now known to monitor data, safely crafting a good story has become more difficult and time-intensive than ever.

Data access has become a national obsession with long-term repercussions, and the wear on journalists and writers is beginning to show.




Edited by Maurice Nagle

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