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April 02 2013

14:28

Dan Gillmor says journalists are uninformed about who controls the platforms they publish on

Dan Gillmor is writing a book (maybe), and he has a lot of questions. The project, which will probably be self published, will probably be called Permission Taken. Gillmor already owns that domain, so why not, he said in a talk at Harvard’s Berkman Center for Internet and Society last week. (Also, his agent likes the title.)

Gillmor says he’s been thinking about the project for about a year, and he’s come up with a list of questions that he wants academics and practitioners around the country to help him answer. When Gillmor looks at the technologies, services, and platforms most of us use everyday and take for granted, he asks, in slide lingo,

KVESTIONS

The answers are not always clear.

Gillmor’s goal with the new book is a pedagogical one — he said he considers his students (at Arizona State University) to be his primary audience. He intends for the first few chapters to be a primer for the digitally barely literate on how to protect privacy and shore up digital security in day-to-day life. Some of the later chapters, however, will delve deeper into the nitty gritty.

Some of the ideas that will become a part of the new book Gillmor shared back in October at a symposium on digital ethics hosted by Poynter. Gillmor and other presenters also contributed essays to a book, The New Ethics of Journalism: A Guide for the 21st Century, to be published in July.

Generally, Gillmor doesn’t think anyone is fully aware of how vulnerable they are, technologically speaking. Build a back door into every new technology so the FBI can keep an eye on things, he says, “and I promise you it’s going to be used by criminals. The more you unharden the fences, the more room there is for really bad actors.”

Gillmor is especially concerned about how little he says journalists know about security and the extent to which they retain control over their content once it’s published online. “I ask, why are you pouring your journalism into Facebook where you don’t control it anymore? Why are you putting it on other people’s platforms?” In his slide deck, Gillmor gives the example of a New Yorker cartoon that caused Facebook to temporarily ban the magazine from their site — thereby claiming an unprecedented level of control over what is and isn’t acceptable in publishing.

Facebook is a particular concern of Gillmor’s, and he points to a tweet in his slideshow in which Loic le Meur quotes a friend employed by Facebook as saying “we’re like electricity.” “Is Facebook a utility?” asks Gillmor. “What do we do with utilities? We regulate them. Monopolies need regulation. I’m not a fan of regulation, but we have to think about that.”

Gillmor expressed similar concerns in his October talk about the level of control held by payment processors. Whether because of pressure from the government or an internal decision, Gillmor says, if the processor deems your content unacceptable, “then you won’t get paid.” But what journalists really don’t like, Gillmor told me, is when he asks them why they insist on building iOS apps that cede control of what is and isn’t journalism to Apple. In terms of distribution, they say they have no other option — and even journalists who have considered other options say the risk is worth it.

But some risks are never worth it. “Journalists need to learn more about security right away,” says Gillmor. “They are threatening the lives of their sources if they don’t.” In a recent column about the Harvard cheating scandal, in which the university admitted to scanning portions of employee emails, Gillmor showed exactly what can happen when a news outlet doesn’t know enough about how to protect their sources.

It’s not just employees and others who want to blow whistles who need to be more careful — such as using external accounts, encryption and a lot of other tools to be safer. (Note: I didn’t say “safe”, because absolute safety is exceedingly hard to achieve, if it’s even possible.)

Journalists, too, need better tradecraft when it comes to their dealings with sources. My impression of the typical newsroom’s precautions is that there aren’t many.

For six years as a columnist, Gillmor used a PGP at the bottom of each page — a safe, encrypted method by which sources could contact him. He said in six years, it was used twice — once by someone just checking to see if it worked.

For journalists, Gillmor recommends Tor, “a network of virtual tunnels that allows people and groups to improve their privacy and security on the Internet.” (Committee to Protect Journalists when it comes to educating journalists about the dangers of using certain technologies.

But ultimately, Gillmor says, “It’s a crucial issue — and one that has not gotten enough attention inside the craft.” These issues fall very low on the priority list for an industry that Gillmor described as being in a constant state of desperation. But the dangers are real, Gillmor says, and with his new project, he hopes to find ways of bringing the convenience of private platforms to services that are both free and secure.

For now, though, “increasingly, journalists who really are appropriately paranoid in the right situations are learning not to use technology,” says Gillmor.

If you have a better idea, Gillmor is taking questions — and hopefully, answers.

Photo by f1uffster (Jeanie) used under a Creative Commons license.

October 21 2010

18:26

2010 Press Freedom Index Shows Europe on Decline

Reporters Without Borders yesterday released its 2010 World Press Freedom Index. Thirteen of the EU's 27 members are in the top 20 in terms of press freedoms, but some of the other EU nations are very low. The European Union has had a reputation for valuing and respecting human rights, and new data suggests that reputation is at risk.

RSF top 10.jpg

"We must salute the engines of press freedom, with Finland, Iceland, Netherlands, Norway, Sweden and Switzerland at their head," said Reporters Without Borders secretary-general Jean-François Julliard. "We must also pay homage to the human rights activists, journalists and bloggers throughout the world who bravely defend the right to speak out."

Many Northern European nations, such as Finland, the Netherlands and Norway, have remained at the top of the ranking thanks to their strong protections for media institutions and journalists. But overall the freedom of expression model in Europe is weakening, and part of the reason is an ongoing effort to implement online content filtering, restrict file-sharing and other related measures.

Along with those developments, Ireland is still punishing blasphemy with a 25,000 Euro fine, the U.K. continues to keep outdated and worrying defamation laws on the books. Plus, Italy and France have seen their political leaders interfere with press activity. It seems that the legislative aspect is the most significant when it comes to Europe losing its world leader human rights status.

EU's Gallo Report

As I mentioned in my previous post for MediaShift, Reporters Without Borders is concerned that France might sacrifice online freedom for the sake of security by implementing a new Internet filtering system. The goal of the legislation is to limit access to pedophile and porn sites. Filtering is a widespread practice today in Europe, and can be very harmful to Internet users if badly implemented. It can also have a chilling effect on freedom of the press.

gallo-report.png

In late September, the European Union adopted the Gallo Report, which made several suggestions about how the EU can better defend intellectual property rights and combat piracy. For Reporters Without Borders, the measures outlined in the report represent a repressive approach that violates the right of Internet users in part because it ignores the fact that legal file-sharing exists and fosters online creativity.

"The Gallo Report is an illustration of the will of the entertainment industry to try to impose private copyright police," said Jérémie Zimmermann, founder of the advocacy group La Quadrature du Net. "Repressive schemes such as the 'three strikes' policies and other Internet access restrictions negate fundamental rights, such as the right to a fair trial, the freedom of communication or the right to privacy."

EU members have begun implementing the Gallo Report, in spite of court rulings that go against its recommendations. Earlier this month, Ireland's High Court in Ireland ruled against three major record labels who wanted to see a "three strikes" policy implemented against Internet users who possess or share illegally downloaded content.

"The High Court ruled that laws to identify and cut off Internet users illegally copying music files were not enforceable in Ireland," according to the Irish Times.

However, the biggest ISP in the country is still implementing a three strikes policy by sending warning letters to those identified as illegal file-sharers. So does France, but Mark Mulligan, an analyst with research firm Forrester, told the BBC it is unlikely to happen in the U.K.

European Decline

When it comes to Internet filtering, file sharing and related issues, Europe is home to varying policies and laws. That's why one of the problems with the Gallo Report is how vague it is. This leads to a situation wherein nations in Northern Europe can be at the forefront of press freedom and online rights while its neighbors rank much lower. The two issues are of course closely related in the Internet age.

Overall, press freedom in Europe is on the decline, and we are far from reaching a consensus on how free European citizens can be to use the Internet.

This is a summary. Visit our site for the full post ».

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