How journalists can protect themselves while covering protests
Martin Shelton, Principal Researcher
Geoffrey King, Attorney, Journalist
Protesters call attention to economic, environmental, racial, gender-based and other forms of injustice. For journalists covering political movements, reporting on protests is crucial, but these events come with unique security challenges. This quick guide will focus on how U.S. journalists can manage the security of their devices and reporting materials when covering protests. Digital security is only one consideration, alongside both physical threats and your rights as a citizen and journalist.
Protecting your information
Before covering a protest, consider what data you’re bringing to the event, and what kinds of evidence you hope to take away. You also want to think about what would happen if any of that information left your custody. Depending on your situation, your devices might be lost, stolen, or confiscated by any number of groups — bystanders, demonstrators, authorities, and others. Ask yourself a few questions before attending the event:
- Do you have any sensitive data on your devices?
- How likely do you think it is that a third party could get access to your devices?
- Who could get access to your devices, and what might they be able to do?
- Do your web-connected devices have access to remote services, such as your email?
- Are there sensitive details that you need to obscure before publication, such as the identities of those involved? Would it be acceptable for them to be seen by someone before publication?
Sometimes protests can be relatively calm events. But sometimes protests can be chaotic. Press observers aren’t always distinguishable from the crowd; sometimes reporters even find themselves deliberately targeted by police, protesters or both. When protests become dynamic, equipment is generally more likely to be damaged, lost, stolen, or confiscated. Know the environment and the likely risks.