Do Journalists Understand Security Issues? OpenITP, Idea Lab Partner to Help

    by Sandra Ordonez
    October 22, 2013

    A few years back, the first digital tsunami hit the journalism world, and I became fascinated with how digital was transforming the field. After conducting more than 350 interviews with diverse journalism experts, it was apparent that journalists saw the new opportunities that the digital world offered, but felt that they and journalism departments lacked the resources and support needed to properly train individuals in the new skill set. Luckily, with a few hiccups, the journalism world did not collapse, and both students and professors adapted.

    A New Digital Tsunami Threatens Journalists’ Security

    Fast forward to 2013 — a new type of digital revolution has reached our shores, this time offering little in opportunities and a plethora of risks. Entities in all corners of the world, ranging from nation states to corporations, have become more sophisticated in surveillance and censorship technologies. Through these tools, these actors directly attack the core of journalism, sinisterly affecting its effectiveness and the benefits it offers societies by interrupting information flow and transparency. Never has it been more important for journalists of all types to understand the dangers the digital world presents in regards to privacy and anonymity, and arm themselves with the tools they need to protect themselves. I offer the following case studies as evidence:

    "Never has it been more important for journalists of all types to understand the dangers the digital world presents in regards to privacy and anonymity, and arm themselves with the tools they need to protect themselves."
    • Journalists may miss the opportunity to break a story because they’re not using encryption technology. Edward Snowden chose to go to Laura Poitras because of her ability to communicate using PGP, an email encryption tool. Barton Gellman discussed on NPR his experience working with Poitras.

    A New Partnership to Help Journalists Learn Better Digital Security

    Not unlike the first tsunami, most journalism schools and newsrooms currently lack the resources and knowledge to prepare individuals, putting much of the pressure on professors and journalists themselves to adopt this new skillset. To facilitate this knowledge exchange, the Open Internet Tools Project (OpenITP), an organization that supports the software creators of open-source circumvention tools, has partnered with PBS Idea Lab to create a space where individuals from our community can provide journalists with tips, advice and tools, and make it easier for people to shift their behavior and incorporate important security hygiene.


    In addition, we hope to get more journalists involved in our world since their feedback and real-world experience is needed to make these anti-censorship and anti-surveillance tools more efficient and secure for the journalists, activists and other end-users.

    The Circumvention Tech Community Needs Journalists

    The circumvention tech community is made up of a diverse group of individuals including human rights activists, policy makers, journalists, non-profits, trainers, developers, and others interested in combating online censorship and surveillance. This is done through the creation of open-source tools, as well as the sharing of knowledge. Volunteers are always needed, particularly individuals who can provide user feedback so that tools and strategies can be fine-tuned to better serve intended audiences. In this regard, journalists are incredibly important since they provide a unique and needed perspective. If you are interested in getting involved, please, reach out to us.

    Ask Us Digital Security Questions. We Won’t Judge

    We also hope that this column offers you a space to ask questions without judgment. As a result, we encourage you to email us your questions and article suggestions. By knowing what you need, we better serve you.


    series posts

    Amid a Coup, Thailand’s Online Crackdown Gains Momentum by Lisa Gardner

    How to Stay Safe While Reporting from Hostile (and Not So Hostile) Environments by Michael Clarke

    Mongolia’s Media Laws Threaten Press Freedom by Lisa Gardner

    Ukrainian Protests & Surveillance: A Wake-Up Call for Western Governments by Sarah Lange

    How Technology Could Mean Safer Reporting for Mexican Journalists by Ela Stapley

    How to Teach Digital Security to Journalists by Susan McGregor

    Digital Security, Email and the New Cyber Frontier by Barrett Pitner

    How Journalists Can Stay Secure Reporting from Android Devices by Steve Wyshywaniuk

    Getting to Know Tor, the Most Popular Anonymity Tool in the World by Kelly Misata

    Phone Security: The Nosy Neighbor in Your Pocket by Lindsay Beck

    11 Steps Toward Better Digital Hygiene by Sandra Ordonez

    Sandra Ordonez is currently the Outreach Manager for OpenITP, part of the Open Technology Institute, that focuses on supporting the community behind anti-surveillance and anti-censorship technology. Ordonez calls herself a web astronaut who has been helping organizations navigate digital strategy and collaborative culture since the early 90’s. She has conducted over 350 interviews on the future of journalism, and currently managed the New York chapter of Girls in Tech. Previously, she was the Communications Manager for Wikipedia. She graduated from American University with a double degree in International Relations and Public Relations.


    OpenITP improves and increases the distribution of open source anti-surveillance and anti-censorship tools by providing the communities behind these tools with many kinds of support.

    Tagged: anonymity journalists open internet tools project openipt openitp privacy security surveillance tools

    One response to “Do Journalists Understand Security Issues? OpenITP, Idea Lab Partner to Help”

    1. Karl Fogel says:

      This seems as good a place as any to note another example of when journalism security practices would have helped!


      Short summary: authorities apparently used a raid done under another pretext to seize a journalist’s notes about an investigation — notes that included confidential source names.

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