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Freedom of the Press Is Under Threat: Learn to Protect Your Privacy Online

Last week, German weekly news magazine Der Spiegel released an investigative report revealing what reporters and supporters all over the world call massive violation of press freedom and human rights. The magazine claims to have seen documents, proving that the BND, Germany’s foreign intelligence agency, has been conducting a surveillance on dozens of journalists worldwide for almost 20 years.

According to the report, released on the 24th of February, 2017, the BND spied on at least 50 email accounts, telephone and fax numbers belonging to foreign journalists, including employees of BBC, The New York Times, Reuters and other news agencies and journalists’ associations. The surveillance which begun in 1999 was focused on monitoring reporters working in remote and sensitive locations, such as Afghanistan, Pakistan, Kuwait, Lebanon, India, Nepal and Indonesia, though BBC London headquarters were also on their list. Arnaud Zajtman, one of the many reporters who was spied on, said it wasn’t “a good feeling to know that somebody was listening” to his conversations, especially when those concerning sensitive sources and information.

Understanding possible threats

Such violations of press freedom and human rights, however shocking, are quite common all over the world. In some countries journalists suffer physical attacks, can be imprisoned for years or even be killed only for being too “nosy” or uncovering some uncomfortable issues.

Digital attacks on journalists are even more common and continue to increase with development of technologies as government players and digital criminals are constantly looking for new measures to monitor and control information flows. And while some of the cyber-attacks, such as online censorship and content blocking, are very straightforward and easily recognizable, others are organized silently, without target, having no clue she/he is being spied on. With the right technology in their hands, interested parties can not only track your phone calls, text messages or email conversations, but also easily access your sensitive information, login details and track your exact location.

With an increasing number of reports on various accidents related to spying and other digital attacks it is not surprising that journalists are more and more concerned about their privacy online. And while many organizations fight hard to protect freedom of speech and journalist rights, we have to understand possible threats and learn how to protect ourselves.

How to protect your privacy?

Actually, it is very easy to take care of your online privacy as the same technology that makes you vulnerable and exposes your sensitive  information, can effectively work on your side. When used carefully, it offers you complete anonymity and allows you to confidentially communicate with your sources, safely store precious files and do your research online without a fear of being watched. Here is what you can do right now to enhance your online privacy (tips applicable to all seeking privacy online, not just journalists):

  1. Secure all your devices with strong passwords. Needless to say: never ever leave your belongings unattended – a few seconds is more than enough to infect your computer with surveillance software.
  2. Make sure to correct your bad digital habits. Yes, they exist and you may not know you have them!
  3. Be aware of potential media threats. Especially if you are working on sensitive cases or regions.
  4. For maximum security, consider using VPN. With your IP address hidden, you will be safe and anonymous online. Moreover, you will be able to bypass all geographical restrictions and access worldwide content without any censorship.

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