March 14, 2014

Electronic Frontier Foundation | Reporters Without Borders | The Washington Post

The United States made Reporters Without Borders’ “Enemies of the Internet” list for the first time, Jillian C. York reports. The U.K., Russia and India join the same freshman class.

“While the US government doesn’t censor online content, and pours money into promoting Internet freedom worldwide, the National Security Agency’s unapologetic dragnet surveillance and the government’s treatment of whistleblowers have earned it a spot on the index,” York writes.

York also suggests some countries that could have made the list: Turkey, Jordan and Morocco deserve inclusion for various policies, she argues.

Reporters Without Borders includes a list of “Corporate Enemies” in this year’s report — firms that “sell products that are liable to be used by governments to violate human rights and freedom of information.”

And it talks about the responsibility of news organizations and journalists for information security: “Protection of sources is no longer just a matter of journalistic ethics,” it reads.

If war reporters care about their physical safety, they take a helmet and bullet-proof vest when they venture into the field. Similarly, all journalists should equip themselves with a “digital survival kit” if they are exchanging sensitive information online or storing it on a computer or mobile phone. Reporters Without Borders is gradually developing such an Online survival kit on its WeFightCensorship website. It explains the need to purge files of their metadata, which give too much information away; it explains how to use the Tor network or Virtual Private Networks (VPNs) to anonymize communications; it offers advice on securing communications and data on mobile phones and laptops and so on.

I and others reported on the U.S.’ recent fall on Reporters Without Borders’ 2014 survey of press freedom. But Max Fisher pointed out in The Washington Post that these rankings can seesaw — the U.S. has moved up and down RWB’s list over the past decade.

So by all means, be alarmed by this latest dim honor for the U.S., but do note that Reporters Without Borders states that this report focused on online surveillance: “The fact that countries that figured in the 2012 list of ‘Enemies of the Internet’ do not appear in the 2013 list does not mean there has been any improvement in online freedom of information in those countries.”

Related: 15 things journalists (and everyone) need to know about digital security | Peter Maass: ‘Everyone needs to use encryption a lot more’

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Andrew Beaujon reported on the media for Poynter from 2012 to 2015. He was previously arts editor at and managing editor of Washington City…
Andrew Beaujon

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