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Private Communications: One More Reason Why Reporters Need to Be More Tech Savvy

NY Times: U.S. Wins Access to Reporter Phone Records. A federal prosecutor may inspect the telephone records of two New York Times reporters in an effort to identify their confidential sources, a federal appeals court in New York ruled yesterday.

When I was a columnist at the San Jose Mercury News, I published for several years at the bottom of my column something called a “PGP Fingerprint.” This was a way of letting people who understood a little bit about encryption, the scrambling of information to keep it away from prying eyes, a way to contact me in a way that would improve the security of the communications.

It would not have solved the problem the Times (and, no doubt, other organizations soon) has in this case. And, in all the time I offered this aid to careful correspondents, almost no one took me up on it.

But the time has come, plainly, for journalists to start getting savvy about the use of technology for secure communications. This includes finding ways to help sources contact us in ways that are difficult or impossible to trace, and to encrypt the communications once they’re moving back and forth.

Actually, we all need this capability. Or we will, at any rate, as crooks, government and business snoops encroach further and further into what we once considered our private lives. The tools still aren’t easy enough to use, in most cases, or cheap enough, but they will be.

Meanwhile, if the folks at the NY Times aren’t thinking hard today about how to preserve their ability to do their jobs, I’ll be surprised.

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