NPR reports: In the digital world, almost everything you do to communicate leaves a trace. Often, emails are stored on servers even after they’re deleted. Phone calls create logs detailing which numbers connected, when and for how long. Your mobile phone can create a record of where you are.
If you’re a journalist trying to protect a confidential source, this is a very difficult world to work in.
“I have been running around in my newsroom, screaming about this … for years,” says Julia Angwin, who covers computer security and privacy at The Wall Street Journal. “There’s so much evidence now that journalists are being targeted, that our communications are vulnerable and, mostly, that our sources are being put in jail.”
It’s in this context that The New York Times decided to outsource its email to Google. This summer, the paper moved all of its reporters onto corporate Gmail accounts. Before the switch, Times emails were stored on servers it owned; now those messages are in Google’s digital filing cabinet.
Unlike the free Gmail used by millions of consumers, corporate Gmail accounts cost money and offer greater privacy protections. But that protection is not complete, and the move could leave Times reporters and their sources with fewer legal protections if they are the subject of a government investigation.
Angwin says one of the reasons that so many journalists have been unable to protect their sources is that records about whom they are talking to are collected by third parties. Last year, when the Department of Justice was investigating a leak about a foiled terrorism plot in Yemen, it didn’t subpoena reporters at the Associated Press. Instead, it went to Verizon and asked for the records of calls going into and out of the AP’s bureaus. [Continue reading…]