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Prepare to be searched - digital security for Syrian journalists

Prepare to be searched - digital security for Syrian journalists

There are a lot of situations in which Syrian journalists may find their digital equipment searched or confiscated. So get rid of unnecessary content and encrypt the important stuff.

If you go through a security or a military check point, you might be asked to submit your mobile phone or laptop for inspection.

Security personnel (regardless of which group they belong to) will first notice pictures, audio and video files that may show  political groups or views contradicting their own organisation's. It best to avoid keeping any multimedia files of this sort on your devices, especially if it is unnecessary for your media work.

Facebook is a commonly used communication tool amongst Syrians interested in political affairs. This is well known by military and security groups. Several people have reported that they were asked by security personnel to “access their Facebook accounts” when passing government checkpoints. Replying that you do not have a Facebook account might make you seem more suspicious.

Consider, preparing a “harmless” Facebook account that does not contain any sensitive content. fill it with pictures of flowers, cats, food and silly jokes! This article contains tips on all Facebook security aspects. This interactive guidebook also provides comprehensive tips on securely using social media websites.

It's also important to hide files about your media work. Leaving data unencrypted might harm many people who have trusted and worked with you. In 2012, British journalist Sean McAllister was arrested in Syria whilst making a documentary film on the Syrian opposition. His arrest allowed government security to access his mobile phone, camera and laptop. They were able to view videos with  ‘unblurred’ faces of people criticizing Bashar Al-Assad. They were also able to obtain a list of names of sources that McAllister had met with. Because of that incident many activists associated with McAllister had to flee the country. Those who couldn’t were arrested.

You can hide sensitive files on your devices by following a series of steps. First: encrypt pictures, texts, audio and video files saved on your computer or mobile phone. People without the decryption key will see the encrypted files as a random group of letters, numbers and symbols. Here is a complete guidebook on protecting sensitive data.
  • For more details on encrypting a hard disk or an entire folder on computers click here and here. For details on encrypting single files, click here.
  • For details on encrypting notes on your android phone, click here. To encrypt the entire content of a phone, click here.
However, finding an encrypted file on your device might raise suspicion that you’re trying to hide something, and you might be pressured or tortured to provide the decryption key. Therefore, it's important to change the name of the file, and hide it in another folder using software. Click here to read more about “Our Secret,” software that can hide one file inside another.

Deleting sensitive files does not mean that they’re completely gone; they can be retrieved quite easily. To read more on securly deleting files, click here. You also can learn how to use “BleachBit” software which will help you permanently erase data by clicking here.


Image: Neerav Bhatt, used here under a creative commons licence.

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