YANGON (March 11, 2014) – Several cybersecurity experts held a panel discussion at the East-West Center’s Media Conference today to discuss ways journalists can keep their data and contacts secure. (Watch the video of the panel.)
“Everybody on the planet who uses the Internet needs to worry,” said Alan Pearce, a British journalist who specializes in cybersecurity. “If a cyber-criminal or an intelligence agent wanted to target anyone in this room, all they need is your email address.”
He went on to say that surveillance tactics against journalists can be used to figure out what they are doing at any given time.
“They can read your emails, see all of your photographs,” he said. “They can even turn on your camera and your microphone and follow you around.”
Pearce suggested journalists should be wary of storing any sensitive information locally, or on their actual computers. Instead, he said data should be kept on USB drives to make sure they cannot be accessed remotely.
Pearce also added that, in the United Kingdom, citizens can be prosecuted for refusing to decrypt files stored on their computers, which could add a further incentive to keep sensitive data off hard drives.
Jillian York, the Electronic Frontier Foundation’s Director for International Freedom of Expression, said that government and private surveillance of journalists is becoming more targeted. Instead of simply collecting as much data about everyone as possible, she said, surveillance groups are preferring tactics “where an individual is picked out for their behavior and has a keylogger or other equipment installed on their device.”
“Most governments are seeking ways to regulate and control online speech, and they’re learning from each other,” she said.
Nay Phone Latt, a well-known blogger, former political prisoner and executive director of the Myanmar ICT for Development Organization, spoke on Internet issues in his country, saying there is still much to do to ensure web freedom and security. “In so many countries, Internet access is a basic right for all human beings,” he said. “But in our country, not all citizens can get that basic right.”
He continued by saying further development – both in terms of infrastructure and education – are necessary for Myanmar’s technological advancement. “In our education system, there is no [educational] curriculum for ICT [information and communications technology],” Nay Phone Latt said. “We don’t have the good infrastructure for ICT.”
He mentioned that one training session he held on teaching people how to blog was hosted in a location that had to be powered by a generator.
York said she believes the state of Internet freedom in Myanmar is improving. “Compared to the situation just a few short years ago, this is an incredible feat, and something to be proud of,” she said.
But Nay Phone Latt, who was sentenced to 20 years in prison after criticizing the former military junta in 2008 and was released in 2012, suggested there is still work to be done. “We have some extent of freedom [here], but we are not so safe,” he said.
– Reporting by Casey Morell & photos by Ninh Pham, Missouri School of Journalism[vimeo 89566089]