As funny as the term “Spectrum Management Team” is, it indicates a concern that all the private hotspot signals will interfere with and slow down the public Wi-Fi that everyone else is using. But some reporters suspect that the real issue is either money (the organizers want to coerce people into buying higher-speed WiFi packages, rather than have them use their own) or control (the Russian government wants to spy on people through the wireless networks that they oversee). Either way, most people I spoke to are paying the same level of attention to the Spectrum Management Team sign as they are to those now-infamous signs with toilet instructions.
Some reporters have changed the way they think about digital security just in the past few days, after seeing what other Olympic visitors are doing to protect themselves. Tripp Mickle, a staff writer at Sports Business Journal, said he has taken note of corporate guests in his hotel who are using burner phones with Russian SIM cards bought upon landing. He says he feels a little bit naïve about his own preparations and precautions, but that he’s starting to think differently now.
“I realized yesterday that any sensitive conversations I plan to have—and that happens some, when you’re covering the business and logistics of an Olympics—need to happen in person,” wrote Mickle. “I am going to be vague in emails and phone calls and try to meet with people in person for conversations when possible.”
Mickle isn’t alone in having a more robust sense of (appropriate) paranoia than he previously had. Many reporters say that they’ve been thinking differently about their reporting processes, at home as well as overseas, ever since Edward Snowden first started to reveal the scope of NSA surveillance last year.
“With so much of the NSA stuff that’s gone on at home, at least I know this is the case for me, I’m always thinking that my computer or phone or whatever is potentially being looked at,” said Yahoo’s Jeff Passan. “Whereas a year ago, if somebody said that, they would have sounded paranoid, I think right now, everybody, whether it’s American or Russian or otherwise, probably thinks the same way.”