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British Spy Agency Considers Journalists a Threat, Vacuums Up Their Emails

DEEPLINKS BLOG
January 22, 2015

British Spy Agency Considers Journalists a Threat, Vacuums Up Their Emails

Terrorists, hackers, and journalists. According to a recent Guardian article covering new Snowden documents, British spy agency GCHQ considers all of these individuals threats—various levels of threats, but threats nonetheless. One intelligence report goes so far as to say, "Of specific concern are 'investigative journalists' who specialise in defence-related exposés either for profit or what they deem to be of the public interest."

The newspaper reports that GCHQ, in a test of their surveillance capabilities, vacuumed up emails of top journalists from organizations like BBC, Reuters, the Guardian, the New York Times, and the Washington Post. The spy agency harvested more than 70,000 emails in a ten-minute period through directly tapping a fiber-optic Internet cable. Though the reporters may not have been intentionally targeted, personal emails between journalists were among those collected, stored, and reviewed.

It shouldn't need to be said, but journalists' communications need to be safe from government hands. And yet, we see example after example of the British government going after this important check to power. (The US has done its fair share of targeting journalists as well.) The Guardian, for example, was forced by GCHQ to destroy their hard drives containing Snowden documents. That was soon after David Miranda, partner of journalist Glenn Greenwald, was detained and interrogated at Heathrow for nine hours. England has notoriously abused its surveillance laws to spy on journalists, prompting over 100 editors to sign a letter to the British prime minister calling for a stop to the spying and passage of a strong freedom of expression law.

Alongside a push for policy, however, we urge journalists to take up secure communication tools (and we even explain how!) that help thwart the effects of intrusive surveillance. Encrypted emails, chat, phone calls—these are basic steps to protect yourselves and your sources.

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