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This Week in Technology + Press Freedom: Oct. 27, 2019

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  1. Policy

Here’s what the staff of the Technology and Press Freedom Project at the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press is tracking this week.

Top Story

Wikileaks Founder Julian Assange was denied the chance to postpone a hearing related to his extradition battle with the United States. His legal team argued that the U.S.-U.K. extradition treaty’s prohibition on extradition for “political offenses” would apply to the Espionage Act charges against him.

Following news of the U.S. indictment of Assange in April, TPFP Director Gabe Rottman analyzed the charge in a post explaining the allegation and why this particular indictment is a hard model for future prosecutions targeting the press. He followed up that analysis with a second one addressing two specific aspects of the charge. In May, he published a third deep dive on the superseding indictment, including the Espionage Act charges that Assange’s legal team says are “political offenses.”

The Reporters Committee also recently updated its chart of federal cases involving unauthorized disclosures to the news media, which covers cases from 1778 to the present.

Quick Hits

Graphic video depictions of the violence in Syria are being flagged and removed from YouTube, but some activists and investigative journalists argue that the takedowns are making it more difficult to track human rights violations.

Motherboard is reporting that certain internet service providers, or ISPs, are actively opposing efforts to encrypt browsing history data. This is notable, given that journalists seeking to keep their data private and secure benefit from encryption of all types of data.

Using a privacy-focused software called Tor, the BBC has launched a ‘dark web’ version of its website that allows users to access BBC content in certain countries where it has been blocked or restricted.

When asked about President Donald Trump’s comments denouncing whistleblowers as “spies,” Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders vowed to end the use of the Espionage Act to prosecute government whistleblowers.

A new visual map created by students at the Reynolds School of Journalism at the University of Nevada, Reno and folks at the Electronic Frontier Foundation highlights the use of aerial surveillance tools by police departments along the border. The data revealed that police officials are using a wide variety of technological tools to monitor the area, including cellphone-tracking “sting ray” towers, facial-recognition software, and drones.

Earlier this year, reports surfaced that the U.S. government compiled a database of journalists who covered the 2018 migrant caravan, prompting the Reporters Committee and NBC7 San Diego to file a lawsuit against four federal agencies for refusing to turn over records about the secret database.

In other news from the border, Sens. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and Steve Daines (R-Mont.) reintroduced legislation to protect searches of Americans’ electronic devices at the border by requiring individualized suspicion — either reasonable suspicion or probable cause — before officials can search such devices.  For the more in depth “forensic” searches of devices, the bill would require officials to get a warrant based on probable cause. The senators introduced similar legislation last Congress.

Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-Hawaii) recently introduced legislation to resurrect the Fairness Doctrine, which would require broadcasters to “afford reasonable opportunity for the discussion of conflicting views on issues of public importance.”

Gif of the Week: This week’s gif is inspired by the power of the dark side web.


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The Technology and Press Freedom Project at the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press uses integrated advocacy — combining the law, policy analysis, and public education — to defend and promote press rights on issues at the intersection of technology and press freedom, such as reporter-source confidentiality protections, electronic surveillance law and policy, and content regulation online and in other media. TPFP is directed by Reporters Committee Attorney Gabe Rottman. He works with Stanton Foundation National Security/Free Press Fellow Linda Moon and Legal Fellows Jordan Murov-Goodman and Lyndsey Wajert.