How Can Journalists Protect Their Sources in the Age of Surveillance?

One of the most famous whistleblowers in American history is Edward Snowden, a man who revealed just how much information the government is collecting on us. While he is off hiding from the U.S. government in Russia, we citizens have to deal with the implications of the information he revealed.

When Snowden revealed his findings through journalists back in 2013, people were appalled. Protests and legal proceedings quickly followed after the findings were published, along with the overwhelming paranoia. However, this only lasted so long.

Before long, people stopped talking about Edward Snowden and seemed to just accept the fact that their government spies on them constantly without their consent. In fact, as John Oliver demonstrated in one of his shows, if you ask the general public who Edward Snowden is and what he did, they will have no idea.

It is unbelievable to me that people were able to so easily accept the fact that their own government is watching over everything they do. While I myself have been known to joke about the government listening in on my conversations, it is important to recognize how much information they actually have access to.

The NSA have access to your phone calls, text messages, internet searches, metro cards, and more. And they can use all that combined information to pretty much plan out your schedule, meaning you are literally never have any privacy.

This lack of privacy directly effects journalists, especially investigative journalists. Many sources want to remain confidential, but as the novel Journalism After Snowden points out, if a third party can find out who the source is, then confidentiality means nothing.

The promise of confidentiality between a reporter and an anonymous source is one that is of utmost importance, and should never be broken. Most journalists are willing to go to jail for contempt of court to uphold this promise, and in many cases they have.

As a journalist in this day and age, you have to be extremely careful in protecting your sources. It may seem like a hindrance, but it might be necessary to go back to the old school method of reporting. That means no technology (no cell phones, recording devices, etc), meeting face-to-face, making sure all emails between you and the source are encrypted, and just using a pen and paper to take notes.

Doing that may take more time and effort, but until source protection practices are rewritten, it is necessary for the protection of sources who want to remain anonymous. With the considering most sources who want to remain anonymous have good reason to want to (such as avoiding losing their jobs, public humiliation, lawsuits, etc), it is important to take these precautions.

One thought on “How Can Journalists Protect Their Sources in the Age of Surveillance?

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  1. My favorite thing that you bring up is how brave journalists have to be in this day and age when almost anyone, especially the government, can know so much about us. It is inspiring that there are still so many people in the fight for truth and transparency. At the same time this topic makes me think about how much must be getting buried in the mess and erased. Its ironic that we are living in a digital age that gives almost everyone a platform to voice themselves but at the same time its crazy to think about how much easier it suppress speech and keep certain people from being heard.


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