Make Journalism Great Again

We have all had that moment when proof of an extremely sensitive atrocity committed by our government is within our reach but our fears of pesky administrative retaliation stop us from sharing that information with people who could really do something about it.

The Freedom of the Press Foundation (FPF) works for the few readers who found themselves reflected above. I have never been the guardian of evidence of a war crime but I imagine that I would like to both leak the information and maintain my freedom if I were. I once started a food fight at a summer camp which really inconvenienced the Duke University cafeteria staff, I did not admit to being the instigator publicly until just now because I was able avoid punishment with silence.

The future of journalism, and possibly the American Republic, relies on the public’s ability to protect whistleblowers from retaliation for their acts of resistance. The media machine pushes the message of the week as defined by their corporate masters. They do not seek out corruption beyond what their masters ask. They report a narrative and find data to support it.

Leaks make the news because the public seeks them out. They are a public spectacle. People want to see the behemoth, targeted by the leak, blunder. People want to know the interesting details before their friends. People want to know if the leaker was caught or remained anonymous. The risk and intrigue in a whistleblower’s tale entices readers. The readers’ desires to know first might be the greatest weapon available to people who want the public to better understand the world around them.

Unfortunately, one leak can only reroute the debate temporarily. To truly make adversarial journalism great the news industry needs a pipeline of leaks. To make a pipeline of leaks, one needs whistleblowers. To get whistleblowers one needs to be able to offer reasonable anonymity.

FPF helps write, markets, hosts, and raises funds for software that allows institutions of journalism to secure the anonymity of their sources. They also administer programs focused on data security.

SecureDrop is, “[their] open-source whistleblower submission system”. It has been adopted by organizations such as The New Yorker (#1 2013), The Intercept, ProPublica, The Guardian, The Washington Post, and Forbes. It encrypts the leak and does not log any identifying data. It was originally written, and named DeadDrop, by (RIP) Aaron Swartz, “The Internet’s Own Boy”, and Wired Magazine editor Kevin Poulsen.

Other FPF programs include; Secure the News, which tracks and encourages the adoption of secure HTTPS URLs by news organizations; Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) Lawsuits, which put pressure on departments of government to comply with FOIA requests; and Digital Security Trainings for journalists and potential whistleblowers.

These security tools are a response to the Obama Administration’s stance on prosecuting whistleblowers, who are supposed to be protected under the Whistleblower Protection Act, under the Espionage Act. Chelsea Manning received a, now-commuted, 35 year sentence as a spy because she was outraged by American war crimes. Edward Snowden, a member of the FPF Board of Directors, remains a fugitive ‘spy’ in Russia because he was outraged by government overreach at the NSA. This persecution will discourage future leaks unless its power can be capped.

Glenn Greenwald, speaking on a panel about building a radical media, focused his comments on addressing how any organization with aspirations to be part of the radical media landscape needs to understand the importance of whistleblowers to modern journalism. Therefore, it needs to have a technological and legal strategy for attracting whistleblowers. Greenwald is also on the FPF Board of Directors and was the main conduit for Edward Snowden’s leaks. He was actually reticent to accept Snowden’s proposal at first because all of the steps required for Snowden’s anonymity were too complicated. Security in this case means having encryption and an operating system, browser, and email client that do not log identifying data. These steps need to be taken on every side of the leak. FPF facilitates this.  

Visit them website for more information on data security and their programs. Also, consider donating to their fundraising campaigns to stop financial censorship and further develop security tools such as Signal, SecureDrop, and TOR Project.   

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