Peter Maass: ‘Everyone needs to use encryption a lot more’

The New York Times Magazine | Peter Maass

Peter Maass interviewed Edward Snowden for his New York Times Magazine profile of Laura Poitras, whom Guardian reporter Glenn Greenwald calls “the Keyser Soze” of the NSA leaks story. In an email to Poynter, Maass writes he “submitted my questions in an encrypted chat to Poitras, she then sent them to Snowden (encrypted), he sent his replies to her, she sent them to me.” The chat was “Encrypted every step of the way,” he writes.

In Maass’ transcript of the interview (which is also available on the Times’ site), Maass asks Snowden why he sought out Poitras and Greenwald “rather than journalists from major American news outlets (N.Y.T., W.P., W.S.J. etc.)” Snowden replies:

After 9/11, many of the most important news outlets in America abdicated their role as a check to power — the journalistic responsibility to challenge the excesses of government — for fear of being seen as unpatriotic and punished in the market during a period of heightened nationalism. From a business perspective, this was the obvious strategy, but what benefited the institutions ended up costing the public dearly. The major outlets are still only beginning to recover from this cold period.

Maass also asks Snowden about Greenwald’s hesitance to use encrypted communication. “I know journalists are busy and had assumed being taken seriously would be a challenge, especially given the paucity of detail I could initially offer,” Snowden replies.

I know journalists are busy and had assumed being taken seriously would be a challenge, especially given the paucity of detail I could initially offer. At the same time, this is 2013, and a journalist who regularly reported on the concentration and excess of state power. I was surprised to realize that there were people in news organizations who didn’t recognize any unencrypted message sent over the Internet is being delivered to every intelligence service in the world. In the wake of this year’s disclosures, it should be clear that unencrypted journalist-source communication is unforgivably reckless.

I asked Maass (over an unsecure channel) whether he uses encrypted communication with sources. “I do now!” he writes.

Seriously, one of the reasons encryption isn’t deeply embedded (yet) in the reporting world is that both parties have to be using it. Not enough journalists use it, that’s for sure, but the same goes for sources. Everyone needs to use encryption a lot more (it’s not that hard, really) and Tor.

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