Fighting for Our Rights to Connect and Communicate in 2014

In my first months on the job here at Free Press I traveled to Chicago and did a bunch of workshops all over the city about media consolidation. I was pretty new to media policy issues, and spent most of the time listening to community members talk about why the media was a life and death issue for them.

I listened to them talk about not hearing anyone who sounded like them on the radio, not seeing any issues that they were struggling with in the newspapers, and constantly seeing their community misrepresented on the evening news.

But I also heard from amazing organizers working in youth radio, journalists who were helping residents start their own newspaper, and digital activists working to connect more people to high-speed Internet access.

These are the stories that still motivate me today. These are the kinds of stories that inspire a lot of the work we do here at Free Press. And I’m lucky to work with an incredible team of people everyday, who inspire me with their passion, smarts and tireless work.

Free Press has been at this for ten years, and I believe this is a turning point. We’ve had one of our most successful years ever, but we have much bigger plans. Some of our biggest fights to defend press freedom and Internet freedom are ahead of us. Continue reading

On Press Freedom, Love of Country and Journalist Solidarity

This week the British Parliament held an anti-terrorism hearing and the main witness was a newspaper editor, Alan Rusbridger.

Rusbridger’s paper, the Guardian, has been under enormous pressure from U.K. authorities for its reporting on U.S. and U.K. mass surveillance programs. Indeed, the partner of former Guardianjournalist Glenn Greenwald was detained at London’s Heathrow Airport under a U.K. anti-terror law last summer for carrying documents related to NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden.

The hearing began with the committee chairman, Keith Vaz, asking Rusbridger if he “loved his country.” It only got more bizarre from there.

Another member of Parliament, Michael Ellis, suggested that publishing stories based on the Snowden leaks was akin to treason. He asked Rusbridger, “If you’d known about the Enigma Code during World War II, would you have transmitted that information to the Nazis?”

It would be easy to laugh at the implications of this line of questioning if the outcomes for press freedom were not so serious. Not long after the hearing, Reuters reported that Britain’s senior counter-terrorism officer and British police are “examining whether Guardian newspaper staff should be investigated for terrorism offenses over their handling of data leaked by Edward Snowden.” This isn’t that far off from the troubling suggestions the NSA chief made here in the U.S. a few weeks ago. Continue reading

Making Journalist Security Ubiquitous

One year ago I joined the Freedom of the Press Foundation to launch an effort to rethink how we fund and fight for hard-hitting journalism. In the last year the Foundation raised over $480,000 for nonprofit journalism projects focused on government transparency and accountability. The donations came from more than 6,000 people and supported critical investigations into drones, Guantanamo, Pentagon spending and funded a daily public transcript of the entire Manning trial for all journalists and the public to review and use.

Today, the Foundation is launching its next crowd-funding campaign. This time, however, we are not funding journalism directly but instead we are investing in the next generation of open-source encryption tools for journalists. Since the Foundation launched a year ago, the revelations about government surveillance and the US government’s unprecedented crackdown on whistleblowers has raised new concerns from journalists and free expression advocates worldwide.

“Protecting the digital communications of journalists is turning into the press freedom fight of the 21st Century,” said Freedom of the Press Foundation executive director Trevor Timm. “The Obama administration has been able to prosecute a record number of whistleblowers largely by subpoenaing emails and phone calls. It’s clear that journalists can’t protect their own sources by just refusing to testify anymore, so we need tools that will help them.” Continue reading

U.K. Criminalizing Journalism Under Anti-Terror Laws

David Miranda’s case against U.K. authorities who detained him for nine hours at London’s Heathrow airport this summer is just got underway last week.

Meanwhile, in court documents the U.K. government submitted last week, authorities accused Miranda, who is the partner of journalist Glenn Greenwald, of terrorism and espionage for transporting documents between Greenwald and journalist Laura Poitras.

Though authorities admit that Miranda was not engaged in anything violent, they assert that disclosing documents or even suggesting such disclosure, when “designed to influence a government and … for the purpose of promoting a political or ideological cause … falls within the definition of terrorism.” Continue reading

NSA Chief Keith Alexander Slams Reporters

In a recent White House briefing, a journalist asked Press Secretary Jay Carney if the Obama administration is considering any legal action against journalist Glenn Greenwald. “I certainly know of none,” Carney said. “I don’t have anything on that for you.”

That a journalist even has to ask this question is a sign of the troubled relationship between the administration and the press.

A week before this briefing, the embattled head of the National Security Agency, Gen. Keith Alexander, sent a warning to journalists reporting on the NSA and Edward Snowden’s leaks. In an interview with the Defense Department’s “Armed With Science” blog, Alexander said:

I think it’s wrong that newspaper reporters have all these documents, the 50,000 — whatever they have and are selling them and giving them out as if these — you know it just doesn’t make sense. We ought to come up with a way of stopping it. I don’t know how to do that. That’s more of the courts and the policymakers but, from my perspective, it’s wrong to allow this to go on.

Other than a brief article in Politico and a few other blog posts, there was little coverage of the general’s comments. But his remarks are part of the growing culture of intimidation and violence directed at journalists in the U.S. The recent report on press freedom from the Committee to Protect Journalists showed just how dire this situation has become.

Given all of this, it’s no surprise that journalists like Glenn Greenwald and Laura Poitras question whether they can safely return to the U.S. without facing prosecution for exercising their First Amendment rights. Continue reading

Solidarity in the Face of Surveillance

One way for journalists to build more secure newsrooms and safer networks would be for more of them to learn and practice digital hygiene and information security. But that’s not enough. We also need journalists to stand together across borders, not just as an industry, but as a community, against government surveillance.

The Obama administration, in its attempt to control government leaks, has issued subpoenas and conducted unprecedented surveillance of journalists, as CPJ documented in a report this week. But the United States is hardly the only democratic nation that has been trying to unveil reporters’ sources and other professional secrets.

In August, U.S. journalist Glenn Greenwald’s partner, David Miranda, was detained by U.K. authorities at London’s Heathrow airport as he was flying back to their home in Brazil. Greenwald’s editor at the London-based Guardian, Alan Rusbridger, soon revealed that the British government had been trying for months to stop the Guardian from reporting on mass surveillance programs revealed by former U.S. National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden, threatening unspecified action. Finally, two agents from the U.K. Government Communications Headquarters, a British intelligence agency, oversaw the physical destruction of computer hard drives in the basement of the Guardian‘s London offices.

The Guardian continued reporting, however, but it also forged partnerships with The New York Times and ProPublica. A Guardian spokeswoman told BuzzFeed, “In a climate of intense pressure from the U.K. government, The Guardian decided to bring in a U.S. partner to work on the GCHQ documents.” This partnership goes beyond a simple editorial collaboration, and seems tantamount to a journalistic act of civil disobedience in order to serve the public. One colleague, Laura Poitras, a Berlin-based U.S. filmmaker and journalist, with whom Greenwald has broken some of the U.S. surveillance documents provided by Snowden, last month shared a byline with New York Times intelligence reporter James Risen, who himself remains subject to a U.S. court subpoena for his reporting on other U.S. intelligence activities. (Greenwald’s partner Miranda was stopped in London after meeting with Poitras in Berlin.)

Increasingly, journalists are finding strength in this kind of global solidarity that connects newsrooms and crosses borders. Continue reading

SecureDrop: A New Infrastructure for Strong, Secure Investigative Journalism

This post was co-authored by actor and filmmaker John Cusack and originally posted at the Huffington Post.

In February Chelsea Manning delivered a lengthy statement to the military court that would eventually sentence her to 35 years in prison for leaking classified military secrets to Wikileaks. In her statement she revealed that before approaching Wikileaks she tried to deliver her cache of documents to the Washington Post and the New York Times.

According to her statement, she spoke to someone at the Post, but was dissuaded by the reception she received. At the New York Times she first called the public editor and then tried a few other numbers, eventually leaving her Skype name in hopes someone would call back. No one did.

Whistleblowing has long played a critical role in government accountability but in an age of expanding government secrecy leaks are increasingly part of how journalism is done. New York Times journalist Declan Walsh has gone so far as so argue that leaks are “the unfiltered lifeblood of investigative journalism.” As such, it shouldn’t be this hard for a potential source to reach journalists.

Today, the Freedom of the Press Foundation is launching a major new initiative to ensure that any newsroom can create a simple and secure way for whistleblowers and sources to anonymously contact journalists. The project is called SecureDrop and it is built on the open source whistleblower submission system originally designed by the late Aaron Swartz. Continue reading