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Supreme Court of Canada to Decide on Protection of Journalistic Material

From CBC News:

The materials at issue relate to three stories Makuch wrote in 2014 on a Calgary man, Farah Shirdon, 22, charged in absentia with various terrorism-related offences. The articles were largely based on conversations Makuch had with Shirdon, who was said to be in Iraq, via the online instant messaging app Kik Messenger.

With court permission, RCMP sought access to Makuch’s screen captures and logs of those chats. Makuch refused to hand them over.

RCMP and the Crown argued successfully at two levels of court that access to the chat logs were essential to the ongoing investigation into Shirdon, who may or may not be dead. They maintained that journalists have no special rights to withhold crucial information.

Backed by alarmed media and free-expression groups, Makuch and Vice Media argued unsuccessfully that the RCMP demand would put a damper on the willingness of sources to speak to journalists.

The conflicting views will now be tested before the Supreme Court.

This case matters for numerous reasons.

First, there has been a real drying up of certain sources, which has prevented journalists in Canada from bringing material to public light. Such material doesn’t just pertain to terrorism and foreign combatants but, also, white collar crime, political scandals, cybercrime issues, and more. The Canadian public is being badly served by the Crown’s continued pursuit of this case.

Second, this case threatens to further diminish relations between the state and non-state actors who may, as a result, be (further) biased against state authorities. It’s important to be critical of the government and especially aspects of the government which can dramatically reshape citizens’ life opportunities. But should the press gallery adopt an unwarranted and more critical and combative tone towards the government there could be a deleterious impact on the trust Canadians have in their government . By extension, this could lead to a further decline in the willingness to see the government as something that tries to represent the citizenry writ large. That kind of democratic malaise is dangerous to ongoing governance and a threat to the legitimization of all kinds of state activities.

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How to protect yourself (and your phone) from surveillance

I understand what the person interviewed for this article is suggesting: smartphones are incredibly good at conducting surveillance of where a person is, whom they speak with, etc. But proposing that people do the following (in order) can be problematic:

  1. Leave their phones at home when meeting certain people (such as when journalists are going somewhere to speak with sensitive sources);
  2. Turn off geolocation, Bluetooth, and Wi-fi;
  3. Disable the ability to receive phone calls by setting the phone to Airplane mode;
  4. Use strong and unique passwords;
  5. And carefully evaluate whether or not to use fingerprint unlocks;

Number 1. is something that investigative journalists already do today when they believe that a high level of source confidentiality is required. I know this from working with, and speaking to, journalists over the past many years. The problem is when those journalists are doing ‘routine’ things that they do not regard as particularly sensitive: how, exactly, is a journalist (or any other member of society) to know what a government agency has come to regard as sensitive or suspicious? And how can a reporter – who is often running several stories simultaneously, and perhaps needs to be near their phone for other kinds of stories they’re working on – just choose to abandon their phone elsewhere on a regular basis?

Number 2 makes some sense, especially if you: a) aren’t going to be using any services (e.g. maps to get to where you’re going); b) attached devices (e.g. Bluetooth headphones, fitness trackers); c) don’t need quick geolocation services. But for a lot of the population they do need those different kinds of services and thus leaving those connectivity modes ‘on’ makes a lot of sense.

Number 3 makes sense as long as you don’t want to receive any phone calls. So, if you’re a journalist, so long as you never, ever, expect someone to just contact you with a tip (or you’re comfortable with that going to another journalist if your phone isn’t available) then that’s great. While a lot of calls are scheduled calls that certainly isn’t always the case.

Number 4 is a generally good idea. I can’t think of any issues with it, though I think that a password manager is a great idea if you’re going to have a lot of strong and unique passwords. And preferably a manager that isn’t tied to any particular operating system so you can move between different phone and computer manufacturers.

Number 5 is…complicated. Fingerprint readers facilitate the use of strong passwords but can also be used to unlock a device if your finger is pressed to a device. And if you add multiple people to the phone’s list of who can decrypt the device then you’re dealing with additional (in)security vectors. But for most people the concern is that their phone is stolen, or accessed by someone with physical access to the device. And against those threat models a fingerprint reader with a longer password is a good idea.

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How Canada’s Anti-Cyberbullying Law Is Being Used to Spy on Journalists

From Motherboard:

According to Citizen Lab researcher Christopher Parsons, these same powers that target journalists can be used against non-journalists under C-13. And the only reason we know about the aforementioned cases is that the press has a platform to speak out.

“This is an area where transparency and accountability are essential,” Parsons said in an interview. “We’ve given piles and piles of new powers to law enforcement and security agencies alike. What’s happened to this journalist shows we desperately need to know how the government uses its powers to ensure they’re not abused in any way.”

“I expect that the use of these particular powers will become more common as the police get more used to using it and more savvy in using them,” Parsons said.

These were powers that were ultimately sold to the public (and passed into law) as needed to ‘child pornography’. And now they’re being used to snoop on journalists to figure out who their sources are, without being mandated to report on the regularity at which the powers are used to the efficacy of such uses. For some reason, this process doesn’t inspire a lot of confidence in me.

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Organizational Doxing and Disinformation – Schneier on Security

From Bruce Schneier:

Major newspapers do their best to verify the authenticity of leaked documents they receive from sources. They only publish the ones they know are authentic. The newspapers consult experts, and pay attention to forensics. They have tense conversations with governments, trying to get them to verify secret documents they’re not actually allowed to admit even exist. This is only possible because the news outlets have ongoing relationships with the governments, and they care that they get it right. There are lots of instances where neither of these two things are true, and lots of ways to leak documents without any independent verification at all.

No one is talking about this, but everyone needs to be alert to the possibility. Sooner or later, the hackers who steal an organization’s data are going to make changes in them before they release them. If these forgeries aren’t questioned, the situations of those being hacked could be made worse, or erroneous conclusions could be drawn from the documents. When someone says that a document they have been accused of writing is forged, their arguments at least should be heard.

As someone who routinely receives, and consults on, leaked documents I can emphatically say this is a serious issue. And that journalists are generally very cautious these days about publishing based on mysteriously sourced documents.

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WSJ Reporter: Homeland Security Tried to Take My Phones at the Border

Motherboard:

“Travel “naked” as one encryption expert told me. If any government wants your information, they will get it no matter what,” she adds.

Something has gone terribly awry if this is the advice that journalists working for international news outlets are giving to those entering or exiting the United States.

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Police Using Journalists’ Metadata to Hunt Down Whistleblowers

Police Using Journalists’ Metadata to Hunt Down Whistleblowers:

In the past year, the Australian Federal Police has been asked to investigate a piece in The Australian about the Government’s’ leaked Draft Defence White Paper, and a Fairfax Media story on a proposal to reform to citizenship laws.

Just last week, police raided Parliament House in an attempt to track down the source of an embarrassing leak about the National Broadband Network. It’s feared that these investigations, along with increased penalties for whistleblowers, are hindering the ability of journalists to hold policymakers to account.

It was with this in mind that the Opposition eventually voted for the amendments that created the Journalist Information Warrant scheme, and allowed the Data Retention laws to pass last year. In a last minute effort to shore up support for the legislation, the Government agreed to add provisions for ‘safeguards’ that would, in theory, prevent the scheme being used to target journalists’ sources. However, a closer look at the scheme reveals its flaws.

When a democracy creates warranting schemes solely to determine who is willing to speak with journalists, the democracy is demonstrably in danger of slipping free of the grasp of the citizenry.

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Roger Ailes Got Us To Mistrust Everyone—Including Himself

Roger Ailes Got Us To Mistrust Everyone—Including Himself:

The best evidence that Ailes no longer wields the power he once did? If reports are to be believed, Ailes himself is about to step down from the network he defined. On its surface, the reasons have nothing to do with Fox News’ diminishing political influence. Gretchen Carlson, a former anchor, has accused Ailes of harassment, and apparently a number of other women—including Kelly—have come forward with their own accusations. James and Lachlan Murdoch, Rupert’s sons, have long looked to boot Ailes, and now they seem to have found the opportunity to do so. Still, it’s hard to imagine that Ailes would be so vulnerable if his role as GOP kingmaker were still secure.

He wouldn’t be ‘vulnerable’ to being fired for sexual misconduct if he still was influential in, or with, the Republican Party. This is the definition of casual sexism in journalism.