Within days of the scandalous news reporting the seizure of phone records at the AP, a call for renewal of a journalist shield law. (NYT excerpt)- "The Obama administration sought on Wednesday to revive legislation that would provide greater protections to reporters from penalties for refusing to identify confidential sources, and that would enable journalists to ask a federal judge to quash subpoenas for their phone records, a White House official said."
Adam Pennenberg writes: (excerpt)- "Unfortunately, it’s an empty gesture, or maybe just plain old politics, because not only wouldn’t it have protected the AP from the DoJ’s snooping – there’s an exception when national security is at stake – a federal shield law, at least in its current form, would be so porous it wouldn’t serve much of a purpose to anyone."
Pennenberg proceeds to quickly outline discrepancies in State laws, concluding with a reminder of current Federal rulings. "The House of Representatives in 2007 passed a federal shield law, which included a last-minute amendment that required anyone seeking protection to earn “a substantial portion of [their] livelihood” from journalism. This was aimed at bloggers, who were, depending on your point of view, either citizen journalists democratizing media or opinionated loudmouths posting vitriolic screeds online between trips to the refrigerator. As the Senate worked on its version of a shield law, however, blogs moved further into the mainstream, partly because virtually every newspaper, magazine, and online news organization has co-opted them for their own sites."
As linked here earlier in the week, AP is not the only mainstream American-based news organization under threat.
From a Slate article titled "How Journalists Can Protect Themselves From the U.S. Government" - "Once they get over being shocked, shocked at the administration's increasingly obvious antipathy toward what they do, American journalists will have to face up to the changed conditions in which they operate."
The New Yorker rolled out Tor-based technology designed to protect whistleblowers and the reporters who rely on the legal protection of their sources. Such an app, like any security tool, is only as good as the user's level of understanding it's complexities.
A group of computer programmers working directly with journalism and tech, in a piece worth reading, examine the details in New Yorker's system. (excerpts) - "There are many ways a leaker might mess up, leaving electronic or financial trails that can be used as leads in investigations against them. Journalists are often notoriously bad at computer security and might expose confidential information by emailing it to themselves on Google or leaving it out in public." and, reflecting on how this would come into play in a case like the AP phone data, "...If the journalist and the source ever communicate through any other medium—phone calls, instant messages, email—this leaves records which can be used to identify the source. This is true even when encryption is used, because encryption only hides what you are saying, not who you are talking to. Whether or not this is a problem depends on who you are trying to keep secrets from."
As journalists are now compelled to drag themselves out of blind ignorance and learn basic internet security protocols, it must be considered that as users of the news we too must understand the practice of journalism in a digital age. Impunity is ignorance. It does not only reside in distant despotic regimes. If we do not protect the press, we give up the protection of information.