Who’s protecting your sources?

Technology: investigative journalism’s friend or foe?

Ben Smith, Editor-in-Chief for BuzzFeed, during his keynote at the GEN Summit

In the digital age, nothing is truly secret. Technology has both advanced journalistic practices while hindering others. Now, internet giants such as Buzzfeed say that they cannot guarantee source protection. In an age were investigative journalism is needed more than ever, what can be done to uphold the duty of care between source and journalist?

Ben Smith, Editor-and-Chief of Buzzfeed told the Vienna GEN Summit 2017: “I think everybody, journalist or not is concerned about both government surveillance, hacking and confidence in keeping private information hidden”.

Watch Ben Smith’s presentation below

RT’s Anna Belkina has gone even further to describe their investigative practices as, “very 1970’s, with pen and paper”, earlier this year at the International Journalism Festival in Perugia. Many other editors and journalists have also expressed their concern over not being able to control a source’s digital footprint and therefore continued protection.

Inga Thordar, Editorial and Programming Director, CNN Digital Worldwide, noted the difficulties facing investigative teams. “CNN has been investigating heavily in investigative journalism because it is exactly the type of journalism we should be doing in this time and it is more needed than ever. I don’t think we’ve gone straight quite to pen and paper, but we are going through extreme lengths in terms of protecting our sources”.

Inga Thordar is optimistic about the future safety those involved in investigate reporting

With throw-away phones, end-to-end encryption and email encryption becoming ever more common place in the newsroom, journalists are developing a different set of skills; less story-teller, more spy. Mar Cabra, Editor, Data and Research Unity, ICIJ said: “The reality is though that the government have become more and more sophisticated in the way they spy on people…so reporters who are investigating national security issues, or issues connected to government doing something wrong really have to be aware that probably they are not safe using any technology”.

Mar Cabra offered useful resources for investigative journalists

Mar Cabra also shared ICIJ’s methods for ensuring the utmost confidentiality in a digital age, without turning to the pen and notebook. “Whenever we start a project at ICIJ we basically analyse what are our threats and what is the possibility those threats attacking us. That’s called threat modelling analysis in security and that is something we didn’t have to do before and now we have to apply it in every single project”.

More information about threat modelling can be found at: Surveillance Self-Defense