FLORIDA — The chief of the Miami Herald’s Tallahassee bureau says he believes someone stole information from a reporter’s computer in mid-October.
Although there was no forced entry, the newspaper staff noticed signs that someone had entered the offices, finding an unfamiliar sleeve to a floppy disk at reporter Tim Nicken’s terminal and the blinds near his desk closed.
“We believe someone was here,” said Mark Silva, the Herald’s Tallahassee bureau chief. The newspaper filed a police report in connection with the suspected intrusion.
“One of the problems is that a personal computer doesn’t tell you much. We don’t know if someone asked the computer to make a copy [of a floppy disk],” said Silva.
The Florida Computer Crimes Act makes it unlawful to take, destroy, or damage a computer without authorization.
“We have seen several cases of theft of trade secrets, but little or none related to the press,” said Jeff Herig, coordinator of the Computer Evidence Recovery Program in the Florida Department of Law Enforcement in Tallahassee.
In 1989, Mike Shapiro, an employee of WTSP- TV in St. Petersburg pled guilty to illegally obtaining information about stories by dialing into the computer system at a rival station in Tampa where he formerly worked.
Herig recommends that news organizations do the following to protect their data:
- Back up data in the event of a loss or theft.
- Consider off-site storage of computer disks.
- Use passwords or other security features offered in software packages.
- Work with the physical security that is already available, including locking doors, etc.
- Never assume that data is protected just because a computer terminal is turned off.
Silva suggests that reporters secure their floppy disks and even consider taking their disks home at night.
“Keep the most confidential information in your head,” he advised.
The Reporters Committee regularly files friend-of-the-court briefs and its attorneys represent journalists and news organizations pro bono in court cases that involve First Amendment freedoms, the newsgathering rights of journalists and access to public information. Stay up-to-date on our work by signing up for our monthly newsletter and following us on Twitter or Instagram.