The alleged involvement of Igor Putin, Russian President Vladimir Putin’s cousin, in the ‘Laundromat’, an international money laundering scheme unveiled by the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP), reached the public thanks to the audacious work of investigative journalists who were able to build a trusted relationship with sources. The use of encryption tools played an essential role in establishing that level of trust.
Encryption is widely used by investigative journalists to protect the identity of sources and the integrity of communication with those sources. These tools – such as secure instant messaging apps for smartphones, secure email services and software to encrypt hard drives or single files, among many others – have been at the centre of public debate since Edward Snowden’s revelations on mass electronic surveillance conducted by the NSA and other national security bodies came to light.
As part of that debate, the International Press Institute (IPI) today released a special report on the use of encryption and the protection of anonymity.
According to a recent report by the Pew Research Center, around two thirds of investigative journalists surveyed in the United States believe that the U.S. government has at some point accessed data on their phone calls, emails or other forms of communications.
That perception of vulnerability has caused many investigative journalists to change their communication habits. Almost half of the 671 reporters who participated in the study acknowledged taking more care than before when storing and sharing sensitive information. Only one third, however, stated that they had spent time working with specific software and digital tools to improve their online security.
“Having this in mind, governments need to take steps to protect journalists and other users’ ability to use encryption tools as a way of ensuring the free flow of information”, International Press Institute (IPI) Digital Coordinator Javier Luque said.
David Kaye, the U.N. special rapporteur on freedom of expression, addressed the use of encryption and anonymity in digital communications in a May 22, 2015 report.
“Where States impose unlawful censorship through filtering and other technologies, the use of encryption and anonymity may empower individuals to circumvent barriers and access information and ideas without the intrusion of authorities,” Kaye wrote. “Journalists, researchers, lawyers and civil society rely on encryption and anonymity to shield themselves (and their sources, clients and partners) from surveillance and harassment.”
IPI’s special report includes an interview with Kaye, as well as a Q&A with three renowned investigative journalists – Paul Radu, Sebastian Mondial and Yolanda Jinxin Ma – who have exposed government and corporate corruption in different parts of the world.