For example, Smyth says, “You could bring your laptop to a university or a library and then you have an ISP [Internet service provider] that’s not traceable to you.” Verclas suggests encrypted communications service Silent Circle.
“Think of ways to ping sources that would be untraceable,” says Smyth. “Use a secure chat program to send a message to a source. If you need to tell your editor who your source is, walk across the room, don’t send an email.”
Yet while there are strategies that individual journalists can use to help protect their communications, many experts believe that there is an essential role for institutions to play as well.
“There needs to be a push in the newsroom to do really good trainings, so it’s not just self help,” says Verclas. “Newsrooms have a moral and ethical obligation to invest in this kind of stuff in a very professional, high quality way.”
“The Patriot Act needs to be reformed, FISA needs to be reformed, ECPA (the Electronic Communications Privacy Act) needs to be reformed,” MacKinnon says. “We need a legal system that actually holds the government accountable.”
In the meantime, she says, “You can start acting like you’re a journalist in China.”
Looking for training and resources to improve your own digital security? Global Journalist Security is offering two special classes on Digital Safety for National Security Reporters in July 2013 in Washington, DC.
Disclosure: CJR has received funding from the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) to cover intellectual-property issues, but the organization has no influence on the content.