Surveillance of journalists - IFJ Expert Group statement

At the heart of much important journalism is the ability to guarantee sources that they may share information in confidence. It is by this means that reporters uncover inefficient bureaucracy, undetected criminality, and the corruption that undermines good governance.

Studio photographic illustration showing a smartphone with the website of Israel's NSO Group which features 'Pegasus' spyware. Credits: JOEL SAGET / AFP

Sophisticated tools of surveillance have the potential to undermine this, either by design or accident.

Digital technology provides multiplying possibilities for state agencies and others to undermine bonds of trust between journalists and their sources. Telephone records may be accessed. Electronic communications can be monitored. Historic information stored on digital platforms can be copied. Facial recognition technology can be used to link individuals in each others company. Artificial intelligence can be deployed to recognise patterns of contact.

The rights of whistleblowers should be defined in law. National and international law should also afford journalists the means to ensure discretion in their work. Where are state agency seeks to compel a journalist is legally required to disclose sources of information or other professionally obtained material, application should be in public and subject to judicial oversight.

Journalists must redouble efforts to safeguard their own data. This must include using multiple phones, including burnersthat are less susceptible to Pegasushacking, as well as adopting tradecraftto ensure that their phones do not have the potential to betray their every move and provide a ringside seat for their most sensitive meetings.

Governments must enshrine in domestic law the inviolability of journalistscommunications both abstractly and in the framing of specific laws and regulations such as those on domestic surveillance. Any dilution of such protections should be resisted.

The international community must build a regulatory regime that allows the inspection and regulation of any and all organisations supplying products that have the capacity to undermine such critical freedoms.

For more information, please contact IFJ on +32 2 235 22 16

The IFJ represents more than 600,000 journalists in 146 countries

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