3. What material will you be recording/transmitting?

Updated:July 2016

3. What material will you be recording/transmitting?

A. How will you be securing the material you will be recording?

If you are recording material digitally, you should be encrypting it. The different tools for encrypting all have their advantages, drawbacks and strange quirks. For strong end-to-end encryption to work, your recipients will also need to be using the same encryption system to access your files. Agreeing with one another how you’ll do this, and testing it in advance is crucial.

B. Is the content controversial? Could it put you or anyone else involved under threat?

Could your source material identify confidential sources or anything you don’t intend to publish? Will you use any techniques or technology to hide someone’s identity in the field, or will this happen during editing? What could happen if the source material was leaked before you took these precautions? There are a number of apps and software that can help.

C. Where/how is this material is being stored?

Are you storing your material in the cloud, or on a hard drive, USB stick or other device? It sounds straight-forward, but the better choice depends on which threat you’re trying to deal with. What do you know about potential adversaries and how they’ve obtained files from other journalists in the past?
  • Option 1: Storing it online. This is what people mean when they say, “in the cloud.” If your content is stored online, you can erase it from your hard drive. This could be helpful when attacks are directed at the physical machines themselves. It’s not without its issues, though. How secure is the online storage service? Where is it physically located and what are the various laws protecting privacy there?
  • Option 2: Storing it locally. Ensure your equipment is password-protected. Use encrypted hard drives. Secure local storage keeps you in direct control. It’s useful when internet connections are slow, absent, monitored or censored. The downside is that you’re carrying all your source material with you. A thorough search could reveal that second USB stick hidden somewhere. Enough interrogation can compel anyone to reveal their passphrases.

D. Will you need to send the material?

If you are planning on transmitting the material during assignment, explore the ways you can add security to the process.

1) Content: Would the content you’re sending put you or others at risk if revealed to an adversary?
  • Reduce risk: The best method is strong-end-to-end encryption, but find what works best for your assignment. Set it up and test it with your content’s recipients in advance. Develop methods (a secret question, for example) to test on one another to ensure you’re both who you say you are online before trading sensitive information.
  • Limit what the files say about you: You may have encrypted your content and created generic online accounts to send it, but metadata can reveal things you didn’t intend. If you’re using widely monitored or public networks, this could be a concern.
2) Identity: Would you or the recipient be at risk simply for being in contact?
  • Mitigate identity risk: If you can’t be seen to be sending or receiving information from certain contacts, then come up with alternate methods to communicate with one another, preferably in person to start. Perhaps you’ve set up mutual generic email addresses or file sharing services that aren’t related to your actual identities. Be sure only to access these through secure networks and proxy services (such as Tor) or a strong VPN. Try not to leave traces of your activity on your computer.


Next: 4. Who will you be contacting and/or working with?

Image credit: Koundjoro Gabriel Kambou at Internet Freedom Fellows Press Conference at the UN, used here under a Creative Commons licence.

Created: June 2014

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