Protecting sources in the age of digital surveillance

More than 100 countries had some form of source protection framework in place in 2007 according to the Privacy International report Silencing Sources. In many of the 121 countries examined in this new study (authored by WAN-IFRA Research Fellow Julie Posetti) it was found that legal source protection frameworks are being actually or potentially:

  • Eroded by national security and anti-terrorism legislation,
  • Undercut by surveillance – both mass and targeted,
  • Jeopardised by mandatory data retention policies and pressure applied to third party intermediaries (like ISPs, telcos, search engines, social media platforms) to release data,
  • Outdated when it comes to regulating the collection and use of digital data. Examples include: the admissibility, in court, of information recorded without consent between a journalist and a source; the extent to which existing source protection laws also cover digitally stored material gathered by journalistic actors.

The study also found that source protection frameworks are challenged by questions about entitlement to claim protection, such as: “Who is a journalist?” and “What is journalism?” — which are matters that increasingly require case-specific assessments. More here.

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