Only seven months ago Edward Snowden started revealing the the NSA-files. With christmas coming and 2013 slowly coming to an end, I think it’s a good time review the consequences the revelations have had.
Politicaly the NSA-files have had little to no influence. Of course, the relations between Russia and the US hasn’t improved but one can ask how good the relation ever was. Putin has shown little doubt when he got the opportunity to bother the Obama-administration. Now even a new, Cold War-like arms race seems to have developed with thrashtalk-related quotes from both presidents. It is hard to say though, in which moderation the Snowden-case started this.
In Europe, presidents Hollande and Merkel didn’t seem to amused with the information the friendly, slightly dominant neighbour USA was spying on both their countries and even the presidents them selves. Europe didn’t do much else than make a sad face and get on with it’s life. Even more, the European countries colaborated to get an Bolivian flight, a diplomatic flight, out fo the air, to check if Edward Snowden was in the plane, trying to make it to South America.
The only one really offended seem to be some South-American countries. Roussef, the Brazilian president cancelled a state visit to the US. The Brazilian government is looking for solutions to keep the Americans from spying on them, their companies and their civilians. With her there are , Venezuela and Bolivia who are prepared to grand asylum to Snowden. Ecuador was less eager to help the whistleblower. How ever, the nation already keeps Wikileaks-founder Julian Assange safe in their England based ambassy.
More worrying is the attitude of the European people in this matter. Nobody seems really bothered by the invasion of their privacy through a government that’s not even his or hers. Maybe some new years resolution thing to think about.
Apache.be published an article about Frédéric Jacobs, a hacker specialized in encrypting digital messages, like e-mails and text messages. It is translated into Dutch, originaly it is a French article, you should find it in our Diigo-group.
I think it is increasingly important for journalists to know how to encrypt their data. Jacobs himself says: “We should prevent the internet from becoming a puddle from which agencies can pick up any information that’s circulating.” I completely agree with his point of view, even though I believe for most of us this is already the case. It is very likely that corporations like Google, Apple, Facebook and so on, are reading our messages and thanks to the Snowden-files we are quite sure the NSA watching us as well, not to mention all the other ‘security agencies’.
There are however quite some tools which we can use to encrypt our messages. We are able to use TOR so that we can surf online anonymously. To encrypt our e-mails we can use software called PGP (Pretty Good Privacy). Not that I have any experience using it, but it is supposed not to be the most user-friendly software on the planet, so here you go, a tutorial: http://pitt.edu/~poole/PGP.htm .
Another nice, more simple to use tool, is TextSecure and RedPhone. Two apps created by ‘Open WhisperSystems’ the project Frédéric Jacobs himself is working on as well. With the TextSecure app it should be possible to send texts that can’t be read by a third party, with RedPhone your conversations should be a lot mot difficult to monitor.
To be clear, non of the software above is 100% safe. It makes your messages a lot more difficult to decipher, which means it makes it a lot more expensive for governments to spy on their people. Especially for journalists, I can imagine, some kind of a positive development.
This is me, taking an advance of next week’s discussion, and it’s related to the question ‘do we need a new kind of journalist, a journalist-programmer?’. I think it is needles to say we do. The internet is slowly growing out of it’s puberty. The music industry, the film and television industry are getting to know better and better what to do with this circuit of free information.
Even journalism is working itself, step by step towards a new landscape that is suited for a digital, tree-killing free information supply. Also governments start to spend more and more of their defense budgets to prevent and execute cyberattacks.
To keep an eye on what ever is happening, journalists specialized in computers are a necessity to guard our digital freedom, and our freedom as a whole. Journalists not only need to know how to use the internet, they (that is some of them), need to know exactly what is going on.
When talking about cyberattacks or about cyberwarfare nobody exactly knows what that means. Something peope do with computers to other people’s computers. To be more specific, this is about computers paid with taxpayer’s money. Containing the taxpayers private data, so of course the taxpayer should be allowed to know which risks he or she is taking with having all his or hers personal information out in the open. If a reporter is allowed to go to Irak of Afganistan, he should be allowed to watch this kind of warfare as well.
Especially since civilians are potential targets themselves, with out knowing it. Their computers might even be used against their own governments. So it is important not only journalists but people in general have a common knowledge about the technique they are so happy to use, and how it is developing.
For me, digital journalism is the same as data journalism. Of course there are a number of downsides to the digital era. If there’s only one government checking my where abouts on the web, it is a little. But since I’m from the Netherlands, living in Belgium there’s at least two governments checking up on me. Those two, including the UK-government (I’ve been reading the Guardian), and the US, that makes four.
Then there are also corporations like Google and Facebook, trying to make a profit out of my personal information by selling it to whoever is willing to give money for that info.
But why privacy should be protected is another issue. When your personal preferences are out on the digital street, waiting to be picked up by a shady party for profit or repressive purposes, you might as well want to take some advantage of it yourself.
You only need to know how. Myself, I bought a book called ‘Handboek Datajournalistiek’ (Handbook Data Journalism). Because AP is making an attempt to drown its students in work, I haven’t had time to dig into it deeply. But for now, this is what I’ve picked up from it.
More and more databases are digitalised. Before you start investigating a matter, you need to know if the information you’re looking for exists. A way to find out is: find a form. Especially government institutions have forms for everything. And often they are easy to download. When the information you’re looking for is being asked about on the form, the institution handing out the form, surely has the information. Sending e-mails and making calls is a great way to get behind databases that aren’t accessable via the internet. And make sure you are aware of the right of publicity.
The bitch is that the info you eventually get, might not me cathegorized. But that is the challenge in data journalism I think. And sorting everything out might take time and might not be the exciting action you’d hoped for you would experience in your life as journalist. But the information you can get from these numbers in these databases might be the story you wanted to write from the beginning. You just mightn’t have expected to use excel.
How to sort out the information and all the other technical difficulties. I couldn’t tell you just yet. If, by any chance I get further into the matter. I’ll be blogging.