Journalists Face Vulnerability Post-Snowden

Journalists Face Vulnerability Post-Snowden
Panel at Columbia University reveals newfound vulnerability of journalists in a post-Snowden ageSource: Wikimedia Commons By Xiaoshuang Ma   It all started in late 2012 with a phone call from journalist Glenn Greenwald to The Guardian U.S. Editor- in-Chief Janine Gibson, saying that he had “the biggest intelligence leak in a generation, if not ever.” Gibson gave a first-hand account on the night of January 30th at Columbia’s Roone Arledge Auditorium of how the newspaper broke the story on the US global surveillance program, leaked by National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden. The other stellar members of the panel discussion on “Journalism after Snowden” were Jill Abramson, the Executive Editor of The New York Times, a First Amendment lawyer, and a member of Obama’s surveillance review group. The experts shared their experiences of reporting under pressure from confidential resources, and discussed the threats and challenges for journalists and whistleblowers after the US spy scandal. Gibson said that the decision to run the story came down to two crucial questions. “Is the story true? And is it in the public’s interest?” she said. “We were trying to edit, write, report, understand, and verify a story, about documents that nobody had ever seen,” said Gibson. “You can’t Google ‘secret FISA Court order’ to see if it looks like the one that’s in front of you.” He said they verified the massive amount of documents, all under encrypted technology, which they learned from scratch, under the pressure that this could all have turned out to be a hoax. Jill Abramson, the Executive Editor at The New York Times, talked about the Times’ collaboration with The Guardian. The partnership was announced last August after The Guardian became the subject of a very aggressive attack from the British government over its reporting. “It could be the least true when some people think that a leak is just a bunch of stuff thrown at us and we just rush to publish it,” Abramson said. “The Guardian schooled us exactly how to handle and safekeep the documents and communicate in a very secure manner.” The collaboration turned out to be extremely wise when the British government demanded return of the material from the Guardian and the Times was able to protect the files. David Schulz, The Guardian’s outside counsel, described the legal implications as a “conundrum”. A news organization publishing confidential documents is “a grey area”, Schulz said. “The U.S. Espionage Act, which intended for dealing with spies when written, has criminally executed a leaker in the 1980s” he said, “but we do have this tradition to protect the press”, he continued. He advised reporters that “if you are going to publish classified information, it should be so important that the American people have a right to know, and you could convince the judge that this was something the public needed to know.” Cass Sunstein, a member of President Obama’s Review Group on Intelligence and Communications Technologies, said that they do not recommend the government hold metadata, “What we urged here is precisely parallel to what has always been the case in a Fourth Amendment respecting situation,”, “material’s held in private hand, and the government has access to it on the basis of the appropriate legal process- that’s the system a free society designs.” But one of the thorniest questions is whether journalists are now more vulnerable? Just days before the panel, the Director of National Intelligence, James Clapper, referred to journalists as Edward Snowden’s “accomplices,” Schulz said, “(With) the technology that we have today, you don’t need to subpoena a reporter anymore” “ There’s an ability to find out who gave out any information, he continued. “And we should all be very concerned about that, because we all need whistleblowers- if we don’t have a mechanism that allows for whistleblowers, our whole society is going to suffer.” When asked whether Edward Snowden has done all of us a favor, the panel gave vague answers. Cass Sunstein said Snowden played a relatively small role in the situation. Gibson noted that the way Snowden controlled his own story has led to the threat of journalists being identified as co-conspirators to espionage. “This is even more chilling” he noted. “The ordinary way of chilling journalism won’t work, that’s not going to stop the release of information, that is journalism after Snowden, naming names, and then proving you’re not a co-conspirator,” he continued. The night ended with moderator Emily Bell asking the panelists for their vision of what journalism would ideally look like in a post-Snowden age. Sunstein named Internet freedom. Abramson wanted more great stories. And Schultz imagined an internationally agreed-upon standard for individual privacy rights. The most applauded answer came from Gibson, “No prosecution for journalists.” Xiaoshuang Ma is a first-year Master of Public Administration student. This story first ran in the print edition of The Morningside Post on February 19, 2014.

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