Protecting whistleblowers, anonymity – and Daniel Ellsberg. Day 2 of the Logan Symposium

In a guest post for the Online Journalism Blog, Natalie Leal reports on Day 2 of the Logan Symposium on secrecy, surveillance and censorship. You can find a post about Day 1 here.

The surprise of the Logan Symposium‘s second day was the appearance of Pentagon Papers whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg, who leaked those documents in 1971. “Secrets are not kept so much by technical means but by people,” he said.

“Mainly by people who want to keep their jobs, careers, their children going to good schools… their identity as someone loyal and trustworthy.”

These secrets only have to be kept long enough for injustice to happen.

He talked of his admiration for Edward Snowden and Chelsea Manning, and concluded by advising potential whistleblowers to make sure information got out in time to make a difference.

“Don’t do what I did, do what I wish I had done. Go in a timely way… A war’s worth of lives may be saved.”

Two types of whistleblower

Protecting those brave enough to speak out was the topic of many of the discussions.

Investigative journalist Nicky Hager categorised two types of whistleblower:

  1. Someone who sticks their head up, identifies themselves and speaks up.
  2. And a leaker – someone providing a huge public service but never identified and able to carry on with their career.

He had, he said, never had a whistleblower in the first category: in his view expecting someone to speak out publicly was condemning them to a life of trouble.

This sentiment, echoed by other speakers throughout the day, was summed up best by Bea Edwards:

How to protect sources (and yourself)

jakob applebaum

Jakob Applebaum spoke via video link

Hacker Jacob Appelbaum spoke via video link in the afternoon about the lengths that journalists need to go to protect their sources.

Mobile phones, he said, are compromised – and he was scathing about Skype.

Using the internet anonymously via Tails for investigative journalism was, he said, a minimum.

More guidance on protecting sources came from former MI5 Intelligence officer Annie Machon. Addressing “any spies in the audience” and referring to teams of twenty people from the security services following targeted individuals around, she said she “knows from the inside” quite how easy it is for security officials to get the surveillance they want.

Her advice:

  • First assess the risk: both to yourself and to the whistleblower.
  • Think about where they come from. If they are coming from health they probably won’t be imprisoned, she said. As a journalist, you could go to prison if you are seen to damage national security.
“You need to ask – what will happen to them? What will happen to you?”

Julian Assange

The day finished with Julian Assange‘s keynote speech on Fundamental Rights (embedded above).

The controversial figure was greeted with cheers and applause as he appeared on the huge screen above the stage via video link.

Assange’s main thrust was about educating people regarding growing surveillance in response to perceived security threats. Growing surveillance on the Muslim population, or any minorities, he warned, would come back to bite our society:

“If we allow seeds of injustice to grow in one part of the population soon enough it will affect the rest.”

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