When the government starts watching journalists, we all have to watch out

A free and open press is one of the stalwarts of democracy. People dedicated to seeking and publishing the truth, who work tirelessly to call governments, companies, and individuals to account when they do something against the public interest. The press and media have been under attack, literally and figuratively, for far longer than the past four years, but the last four years have been particularly troubling.

However things cross a line when the government begins actively tracking what the media are saying and reporting it to other law enforcement groups:

Over the past week, the department’s Office of Intelligence and Analysis has disseminated three Open Source Intelligence Reports to federal law enforcement agencies and others, summarizing tweets written by two journalists — a reporter for the New York Times and the editor in chief of the blog Lawfare — and noting they had published leaked, unclassified documents about DHS operations in Portland. The intelligence reports, obtained by The Washington Post, include written descriptions and images of the tweets and the number of times they had been liked or retweeted by others.
After The Post published a story online Thursday evening detailing the department’s practices, the acting homeland security secretary, Chad Wolf, ordered the intelligence office to stop collecting information on journalists and announced an investigation into the matter. DHS compiled ‘intelligence reports’ on journalists who published leaked documents – The Washington Post

It’s important to note, DHS did state this wasn’t they should be doing and will find out why someone thought it would be a good idea to start nipping at the edges of freedom of the press. Still, it’s a troubling sign, especially when U.S. government has been criticized for its actions in Portland, OR. Even the suggestion the government has its eyes on you while you report what agents of the state are doing to civilians is chilling.

We outlined how SKY ECC can help journalists protect their sources and their work, especially when working on high-profile stories. In addition to protecting sources, SKY ECC lets journalists stay in touch with editors and can be used to securely send notes, images, and audio back to the newsroom. SKY ECC notes, might not be a full-featured word processor, but you can write notes in rich text with headings, formatting, and colors, then share them with colleagues with a couple taps.

There have numerous cases of state-sponsored hacks against journalists. Attacks on a Moroccan journalist and a journalist for the New York Times working on stories about Saudi Arabia were both using NSO Group’s iPhone hacking software Pegasus. Once Pegasus is on a phone, the attacker has complete, and invisible, control over the device. Everything written, said, visited, and stored is available to whomever is controlling the app.

Devices like SKY ECC help thwart these attacks in several important ways:

  • you can’t install apps like WhatsApp on SKY ECC devices (WhatsApp is a common vector for sending the link to compromise the device)
  • you can’t receive text messages on SKY ECC devices (SMS is the other vector for sending malicious links)
  • you can’t install additional apps or modify iOS security settings on SKY ECC devices
  • you can’t visit unauthorized websites on SKY ECC devices (technically, Safari is completely disabled on current iOS devices)
  • you can’t connect to servers other than ours (meaning malware like NSO’s couldn’t “call home” to send data from the phone)
  • SKY ECC itself (the app) is in a protected container, doesn’t allow data to leak in or out of it, and everything inside the app is encrypted before it’s sent to our server (over an additionally encrypted connection)

If journalists relied SKY ECC to contact their editors and used these devices for their sources, their discussions, photos, and notes would be protected from attacks like NSO’s Pegasus. It’s essential for journalists to do their work safely and securely. Even Edward Snowden’s revelations about the breadth of the NSA’s activities wouldn’t have come to light without the tireless work of journalists.

Learn more about the features built into our app and the layers of security we build into every SKY ECC device—iOS or Android.

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