Let’s be clear: Everything journalists do in the digital world is open to scrutiny by suspicious minds because that’s the way intelligence agencies work. If state eavesdroppers didn’t make use of this amazing opportunity they wouldn’t be very good at their job.
Edward Snowden’s revelations about the U.S. National Security Agency‘s global monitoring should not come as a big surprise. U.S. agencies have the technology, the will, and some very loosely written laws that allow them to snoop with impunity. It was just a matter of time before someone stood up and blew the whistle.
What Snowden has told us should serve as a wake-up call for everybody in the news business because a journalist who cannot offer confidentiality is compromised, and fewer sources will trust us in the future. But the Internet has come a long way in recent years. The development of security tools, almost all of which are built by activist volunteers, can make the digital world a far safer place for journalists to operate. In this regard, journalists can learn from others who–for different reasons–have learned how to evade electronic surveillance, as I explain in my new guide, “Deep Web for Journalists,” a project supported by the International Federation of Journalists.
Here’s why you should care. Start researching sensitive subjects or visiting extremist websites, and a tracking device could be planted to follow your computer’s activities around the Internet. The tracking technology may involve an algorithm that could misconstrue your browsing activities and set off alarms inside intelligence agencies. And if these agencies become interested in you, they have the ability to monitor your online activities and read your emails. They can see who your contacts are and they can monitor them, too. Once they sink their claws in they may never let go.
All journalists are potential targets. We have contact with politicians and activists, we have our finger on the pulse and we are capable of causing all kinds of trouble, both to governments and to corporations. The key is to not draw attention in the first place, to understand how agencies operate and then figure out multiple ways to circumvent them because you cannot rely on any single security application or piece of technology.
In the final scene of the Hollywood film, “Raiders of the Lost Ark,” the Ark of the Covenant is hidden inside one crate placed among a humongous warehouse full of identical crates. The scene helps illustrate an operating principle for journalist. Simply put, if intelligence agencies do not know where to look for information they are less likely to ever find yours.
It may surprise some people to learn that there is in fact another Internet, a parallel and vast digital universe much like the one we know but that is populated by very different users. The Deep Web, as it is also known, involves hidden networks allowing people to secretly connect with each other within the broader Internet.
One way to find the Deep Web is through the Hidden Wiki. Its hidden networks are accessed via specifically configured web browsers that route users through different servers, often in different nations, to make it all but impossible for anyone to track the original location or Internet Service Provider address where someone is physically accessing the Internet including the Deep Web.
The most widely used such network is Tor, a respectable tool built by Internet freedom volunteers that is open to use by human rights activists, and also to abuse by criminal syndicates, predators, terrorists and others.
To enter Tor, you must first install the Tor/Firefox web browser to divert your traffic through a worldwide volunteer network of servers. This conceals your location and your activities, effectively hiding you among all the other users. Tor works by encrypting and re-encrypting data multiple times as it passes through successive relays. This way the data cannot be unscrambled in transit. (Tor is so effective, in fact, that many intelligence agencies now use it for their own secure communications.)
Now add to this a range of security tools and you can use Tor to access the conventional Internet without ever drawing attention. Rather like spies in a James Bond movie, journalists have an array of digital weapons to call upon to ensure that their research, correspondence, notes and contacts are secure. Learning the concepts and tools can take time, but you can access banned websites. You can continue tweeting when the authorities take down Twitter locally. You can scramble calls or send emails and messages that cannot be intercepted or read. You can pass on and store documents away from prying eyes. You might even hide news footage of a massacre inside a Beatles track on your iPod or smartphone while you slip across the border.
The Internet has evolved and so has its counter-surveillance tools. Now we must get smart and learn how to use them. We must safeguard our devices from intruders; we should take care that our smartphones are not used as tracking and listening devices. We need to learn how to stay beneath the radar.
Alan Pearce is a journalist who has reported for outlets including Time, The Sunday Times, Sky News, and the BBC. He is the author of the ebook “Deep Web for Journalists: Comms, Counter-surveillance, Search,” supported by the International Federal of Journalists.
This file picture taken on March 22, 2012 shows Thai buddhist monks looking at discounted notebooks displayed at the Commart Thailand in Bangkok. The behaviour of Thailand’s Buddhist clergy has been thrust under the spotlight after footage emerged of monks settling into a flight on a private jet, sporting sunglasses and iPods while one apparently carried on a luxury bag. — FILE PHOTO: AFP –
The case against Thai monk Luang Pu Nenkham Chattigo gets more jaw-dropping by the day.
Last month, the 33-year-old Buddhist monk hit the headlines when a video showing him sporting aviator shades and sitting in a private jet with a Louis Vuitton bag by his side made its rounds on YouTube.
Last week, the country’s anti-money laundering office highlighted suspicious activity in his bank accounts.
A few days later, another set of allegations surfaced that he had been intimate with several women, including a then underaged girl.
Now there are even suspicions of drug trafficking.
Thailand, with more than 50 million Buddhists and more than 290,000 monks, is no stranger to monastic scandals.
The National Office of Buddhism reprimanded about 300 monks and novices last year for misconduct like drinking alcohol and having sex, according to an Associated Press report. Some have been caught with drugs and pornography.
Officially, monks have to uphold 227 precepts. These include not receiving money or buying or selling anything with money. In reality, though, the relationship between its most charismatic monks and money can be ambiguous, given the sizeable trade in amulets and the other religious artefacts in the country.
This is popular Buddhism as practised by everyday people – less oriented towards scripture and spiritual growth and more interested in mortal concerns like health, wealth and physical safety.
In his book Mediums, Monks and Amulets, the late anthropologist Pattana Kitiarsa described it as “a large scale, cross-social spectrum of beliefs and practices – incorporating the supernatural powers of spirit, deity, and magic – that have emerged out of the interplay between animism, supernaturalism, folk Brahmanism and the worship of Chinese deities, and state sponsored Theravada Buddhism”.
It is common, for example, to see buyers of new cars rush to get them blessed by monks.
Buddhist soldiers on dangerous assignments wear amulets bearing the likeness of popular monks to protect them from harm.
There are stampedes for particularly “powerful” amulets. In one, five years ago in the southern province of Nakhon Si Thammarat, a woman died.
Inevitably, a lot of money changes hands, in the forms of donations or payments for amulets blessed by popular monks to raise funds for their monasteries and other causes. The value of these amulets rise in secondary markets overseas, especially when the media runs articles on the good fortune or fortunate encounters by people who wear them.
The special Chatukham-Rammathep amulets that caused a stampede in 2007 were estimated to have generated a 40 billion baht industry in that year alone.
A large portion of these tax free baht go towards good causes. One of Thailand’s most iconic monks, Luang Phor Khun Parisutto, reportedly donated millions of baht towards health services and schools.
Unsurprisingly though, the large sums of money also attract the attention of less than righteous characters.
When Luang Pu Nenkham’s private jet video first caused an outcry last month, the National Office of Buddhism’s director-general Nopparat Benjawatananun called the monk’s behaviour inappropriate but indicated that modernity had made it harder for monks to draw the line between necessity and extravagance.
He told the AP then: “When Lord Buddha was alive, there wasn’t anything like this. There were no cars, smartphones or cameras, so the rules were much simpler.” As more and more people seek monks out for luck, fame and fortune, this is a demarcation that will be increasingly difficult to make.
Faced with questions that came at him from the left – on same-sex marriage, climate change and gun control – Obama hewed closely to his well-established positions but directed his answers to the network’s under-30 audience. There was no “boxers or briefs” or “I didn’t inhale” moments like the ones in then-Gov. Bill Clinton’s famous 1992 interview with MTV.
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“I have been very clear about my belief that same sex couples have to be treated, before the eyes of the law, the same way as heterosexual couples,” Obama told host Sway Calloway, who interviewed the president live from the Blue Room and wore a knit cap with his suit. MTV has asked Mitt Romney to do a similar interview before Election Day, but the Romney campaign has not yet committed to one.
Explaining his evolution to come to support same-sex marriage, Obama said he “was supportive of civil unions” but that same-sex couples he knows “taught me that if you’re using different words, if you’re somehow singling them out, they don’t feel true equality.”
But that doesn’t mean that Obama will push for a federal definition of marriage. “Historically, marriages have been defined at the state level,” he said. “For us to try to legislate federally is probably the wrong way to go.”
He did, though, offer viewers a reminder that he that his administration has stopped defending the Defense of Marriage Act in court, though he got the name of that late-1990s law wrong in two mentions during the interview. “I have stood up and said I’m opposed to the so-called Defense Against Marriage Act,” he said.
“We haven’t seen as much directly political music. I think the most vibrant musical art form now over the last 10 to 15 years has been hip-hop,” he said.
“There have been some folks that have kind of dabbled in political statements. But a lot of it has been more cultural than political,” he continued, before mentioning high-profile Obama supporter Bruce Springsteen. “You got folks like Springsteen who are still putting out very strong political statements. But I would like to see a more explicit discussion of the issues that are out there right now. Because music is such a powerful mechanism.”
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