Theater of Cruelty

"Grave journalism is threatened"

The OSCE Representative for Press Freedom and the UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression are concerned about the growing surveillance threat to journalists.


At an open seminar in Oslo on surveillance and freedom of expression, organized by, among others, Norwegian PEN, Dunja Mijatovic admitted that such strategies are not enough to solve the problem. "I have had enough of good documents and papers that save the governments' faces," Mijatovic told the assembly. After the meeting, she elaborates on her views on Ny Tid: "The threats to press freedom have definitely increased in recent years, especially in the wake of the terrorist attacks last year," Mijatovic said. "The attacks seem to have created a momentum for politicians in the West to expand their powers. We see that countries are passing laws that allow for far-reaching collections of large amounts of metadata, which can reveal journalistic sources. "
Metadata contains information about who is talking to who on the web or mobile, when they talk together and where they are. This information is often enough to guess the contents of a conversation as well.

The Rolfsen case is internationally recognized. "The problem of mass surveillance, whether it is illegal or based on new and more invasive law enforcement, is how to ensure the confidentiality of the sources," Mijatovic continues. “This makes it particularly difficult to disclose matters of public interest in national security, police and intelligence, where the information is sensitive but not necessarily secretive. Bureaucrats and other whistleblowers refrain from sharing information with journalists because of the risk of digital tracks being left behind. And journalists have become so preoccupied with how to hide their tracks that they end up feeling like spies instead of journalists. ”
Despite the general negative trend, Mijatovic sees a bright spot in the Supreme Court ruling in favor of Ulrik Imtiaz Rolfsen, the documentary filmmaker who got his material confiscated by PST. “In my job, I see that monitoring journalists is increasingly a threat to grave journalism, despite very clear sentencing in the area of ​​the European Court of Human Rights. Countries are also increasingly using criminal justice or security laws to circumvent the traditional protection of journalists, and to search editorial and journalists' homes to confiscate unpublished material, ”Mijatovic says. "This is a step towards an authoritarian regime. The Norwegian Supreme Court decision in the Rolfsen case, which I applauded publicly and set as an example to follow, was important because it also recognized how important it is to protect the source material. ”

Bureaucrats and other whistleblowers refrain from sharing information with journalists because of the risk that digital traces may be left behind.

Encryption needed. In his role as OSCE Representative for Freedom of the Press, Mijatovic has seen to intervene on several occasions over the past year. "My staff is closely following the negative trend in which several OSCE member states have adopted or are in the process of enacting legislation that could potentially conflict with freedom of expression and cause journalistic sources to be disclosed," Mijatovic says. "Among other things, I have warned against developments in France and the UK."
In July last year, France approved extensive authorizations to monitor both mobile calls and emails outside the courts, as long as the investigation can be related to terrorism. In the UK, there is a bill requiring Internet and mobile providers to store logs of everything users do for a year, and online companies are required to offer the authorities a back door into their encrypted services.
Both Mijatovic and David Kaye, the UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression, see encryption and anonymisation services as absolutely necessary to ensure freedom of expression, and respond that authorities in several liberal democracies are considering ordering service providers to build backdoors into their software. This concern often arises in the context of grave journalism and dissidents in authoritarian regimes, but for Kaye, access to encryption is also a prerequisite for the freedom of speech and opinion of most people. "Encryption and anonymity tools allow you to explore sensitive or personal things," Kaye explains to Ny Tid. "For example, it could be an atheist in a very religious community, or someone who wants to explore their own sexuality. Encryption protects the private space. If you are afraid to seek information, it will limit your ability to form your own opinion or explore your identity. In the long run, I am concerned that surveillance will hamper creative and personal development. "

Nothing to balance. Recent judgments from the European Court of Human Rights nevertheless provide a glimpse of hope on the horizon. According to human rights, freedom of expression includes the right to seek, receive and provide information and ideas – regardless of the medium one uses and regardless of boundaries. This right can only be limited in cases described by law and where the restriction is necessary and proportionate to ensure a specific goal, for example related to the security of the kingdom. "The European Court of Human Rights has begun to move in the direction of mass surveillance – that is, surveillance that is not directed at a specific person – is illegal, because it is incompatible with at least one of the conditions for limiting freedom of expression," Kaye explains. "I think this is very important, and I think these sentencing is a milestone."

"If you are afraid to seek information, it will limit your ability to form your own opinion or explore your identity.

One of the arguments that is constantly being advanced in defense of the massive surveillance of our time is the idea that we must give up some freedom in favor of better security. This is a completely flawed thought, according to Dunja Mijatovic. "There is nothing to balance!" says a committed Mijatovic. “Security and human rights should not be seen as opposites or contradictory values. By putting human rights up for safety, we run the risk of losing both. We need to be concerned with both sides, because they are interconnected. Security is an aspect of human rights, and without human rights there is no security either. "

Tori Aarseth
Tori Aarseth
Aarseth is a political scientist and a regular journalist at Ny Tid.

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