Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Journalists Wake-Up Call for 2014

I think many media organisations, especially media for development NGO's, need to watch this video from Jacob AppleBaum given to the Chaos Computer Club meeting this week in Hamburg, Germany. The timing is brilliant - PR companies are on their Christmas break and so there is "no news" except nonsense stories. The talk was given just after the publication of another article on the NSA by Germany's Der Speigel. Many of the journalist training courses fail to explain to journalists the extent of security services spying. There are ways to protect yourself, but most working journalists either don't know or are too trusting of systems which have a known back-door. I find AppelBaum's comments about microwave radar at the end of the presentation around 56 minutes to be misleading. He needs to talk with an RF engineer.

This presentation is an eye-opener for many of us. The extent of the surveillance techniques, to the point of developing back-doors on disk drive firmware or being able to switch on webcams remotely without the user knowing its active. And it is not just the NSA of course.

Appelbaum calls out several companies like Apple, Dell, to explain their position. Have they worked with the NSA to supply these backdoors or are they "victims". I'm also intrigued by the references to CNN.com. But closer analysis of the speech is troubling, especially the people tend to forget that the development TOR system that Appelbaum refers to was partially funded by a grant from US International Broadcasting body, the BBG. This from the Guardian.

The Broadcasting Board of Governors, a federal agency whose mission is to "inform, engage, and connect people around the world in support of freedom and democracy" through networks such as Voice of America, also supported Tor's development until October 2012 to ensure that people in countries such as Iran and China could access BBG content. Tor continues to receive federal funds through Radio Free Asia, which is funded by a federal grant from BBG.

If European media organisations are really serious about helping their colleagues at home and abroad, then 2014 will be the year they make it so much easier for independent journalists to do something about staying safe. We need safer tools that are easier to use. The tools from organisations such as Tactical Tech are still too much focused  on the tech community.


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