Report: Surveillance Hampering Journalists

Human Rights Watch and the American Civil Liberties Union said in a report issued today that access to data as detailed in leaks by former National Security Agency systems analyst Edward Snowden, coupled with the Obama administration's prosecution of people for leaking classified information, is having a chilling effect on reporters.
The Associated Press,

NEW YORK (AP) -- Revelations over the past few years about how U.S. security officials have the ability to track people through phone, email and other electronic records are making it harder for journalists to report on what the government is doing, two human rights groups say.

Human Rights Watch and the American Civil Liberties Union said in a report issued Monday that access to data as detailed in leaks by former National Security Agency systems analyst Edward Snowden, coupled with the Obama administration's prosecution of people for leaking classified information, is having a chilling effect on reporters.

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The groups are calling on the administration to be more upfront about the data it is collecting and how the information is used, and to increase protections for journalists and whistleblowers.

The same government access to information is eroding the ability of lawyers to protect the confidentiality of its contacts with criminal defendants, the report concludes.

Ninety-two people, including 46 journalists, 42 lawyers and some present or retired national security officials, were interviewed for the report.

While journalists are not being prosecuted for doing their jobs, news about the scope and type of information available to the government has forced many journalists to change how they work, said Alex Sinha, the report's author. Several say that fewer sources are willing to talk to them because they fear the consequences, he said.

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Reporters are turning to encryption technology that scrambles electronic communication with sources, although they worry the mere fact the government knows they are using encryption will raise suspicions. To counter monitoring of cellphones, some say they use throwaway phones. One reporter said he calls many sources at the time of a big story, just to protect the identity of the ones he used. Face-to-face contact is increasingly preferred.

One reporter, ABC's Brian Ross, said he's been tipped to say, "I'm a U.S. citizen, are you?" at the beginning of cellphone conversations because of a legal prohibition against monitoring calls by citizens.

It all contributes to drying up the flow of information, journalists said. "People have to work harder, it takes longer, and you ... won't have as many stories," Kathleen Carroll, senior vice president and executive editor of The Associated Press, said in the report.

An AP story in 2012 on a U.S. operation in Yemen led to a federal investigation in which the government seized AP phone records in its search for the source of information.

The administration's efforts to go after leakers and require government workers to report colleagues they suspect of releasing sensitive material make it less likely that potential sources will want to speak to reporters, Sinha said.

Security officials interviewed for the report stressed the need for the government to keep up with new technology to protect citizens in a dangerous world, and expressed some skepticism about how much journalists are being hurt.

"The First Amendment seems quite alive and well in America today," a senior FBI official told the organizations.

Well-publicized leaks by Snowden and Chelsea Manning undoubtedly leave people in national security with the impression that sensitive information is getting out to reporters, but that's deceptive, Sinha said.

"It's misleading to think that two big leaks over the past three years is the same as having many smaller leaks across different agencies that provide us a better picture of what our government is doing," he said.

Legislative efforts are underway to try and prevent security officials from routinely collecting phone records and to restrict the amount of business records the government can keep. The organizations support those efforts.

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Ratings

Overnights, adults 18-49 for September 26, 2016
  • 1.
    4.4/12
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    2.8/8
  • 3.
    2.5/7
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    1.5/4
  • 5.
    0.8/2
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    0.3/1
Source: Nielsen

Reviews

  • Rob Owen

    Easily fall’s best broadcast network comedy pilot, NBC’s The Good Place offers a clever high-concept premise that’s complemented with intelligent, sometimes absurdist humor. Created by Michael Schur, co-creator of NBC’s Parks and Recreation, The Good Place is a highly serialized series that’s essentially set in heaven and stars Kristen Bell and Ted Danson. NBC made five episodes of The Good Place available for review, and the show not only holds up, but also it improves, deepening characters that initially feel one-note and frequently leaving viewers guessing with cliffhanger endings to many of the episodes. The combination of snappy dialogue and winning but flawed characters makes The Good Place a great bet for fans of smart TV comedy.

  • Maureen Ryan

    Pitch has swagger, for good reason. It gets the big things right; the Fox drama about the first female baseball player in the Major Leagues is one of the year’s most assured and exciting debuts. But part of what impresses about the pilot is also the way it confidently strings together so many small but telling details. Ginny (Kylie Bunbury) is the first woman to be called up from the minors to the big leagues, and no show since Friday Night Lights has done a better job of portraying the internal and external pressures that weigh heavily on young athletes asked to do much more than merely succeed on the field. Pitch will likely do a good job of getting viewers to root for it. The hope is that the show won’t be an impressive, short-lived curiosity, but rather a long-term phenomenon.

  • Kevin Fallon

    In a fall TV season that’s already making a splash for championing diverse, distinctive voices in an array of projects that they created, wrote, and starred in, Better Things on FX stands out. The show is created by, written by, and starsPamela Adlon. She plays Sam Fox, the single mother of three daughters modeled after her own reality-show-ready experience raising three girls in Los Angeles following a divorce. Sam is also, like Adlon, a working actress — on shows both raunchy, a la Californication, and animated for children, like her role on Recess. It’s a refreshingly blunt take on single motherhood without sacrificing the warmth of parental love, portraying the dance between selfishness and selflessness that’s at the heart of being a parent — especially one weathering the hormonal fireworks of a household of four women at different ages.

  • David Wiegand

    The fall TV season doesn’t count as much as it used to — we already know that. But no matter how many retreads the broadcast networks throw at viewers in the next few months, this fall will be memorable because of the premiere of Atlanta on Tuesday, Sept. 6, on FX. The half-hour comedy created by and starring Donald Glover (Community), simply and brilliantly recalibrates our expectations of what a TV comedy is and how black lives are portrayed on the medium.

  • Louisa Ada Seltzer

    The second reboot of the 1980s John Candy movie Uncle Buck, bumped by ABC from midseason, has the same tired jokes you'll find on any second-rate sitcom. Too bad, because Mike Epps is appealing and ABC would be wise to keep him around for future shows, but there’s just not enough to this show to suggest it will last past summer. It also airs against NBC’s America’s Got Talent, summer’s No. 1 program on broadcast, which may make it even harder to find an audience.

  • Neil Genzlinger

    Bryan Cranston brings his Tony Award-winning interpretation of President Lyndon B. Johnson to television in an adaptation of the Robert Schenkkan play All the Way, and it’s still quite a sight to behold, just as it was on Broadway in 2014. Nothing beats witnessing this kind of larger-than-life portrayal onstage, of course. But the television version, presented by HBO, offers plenty of rewards, allowing Cranston to work the close-ups and liberating him from the confines of a theater set. Cranston’s performance is a gem — in his hands, this accidental president comes across as an amazing bundle of contradictions, someone who seems at once too vulgar for the job and just right for it.

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