Digital Surveillance, A Key Journalistic Issue- MISA

Staff Reporter

The surveillance toolkit for research published this quarter by Internews in partnership with MISA, DFRLab, Digital Society with funding from the USAID highlighted the key issues and strategies journalists should consider in fulfilling their profession as technology allowed suppression of freedoms.

The report notes technology as having availed a platform for better communication which however left journalist’s and activist’s vulnerable to surveillance hense the quest to prepare journalist’s for protection.

“However, while these technologies have been a facilitator of freedom of expression, they also allow for digital surveillance of citizens and more particularly journalists and activists globally and continentally in general and Southern Africa in particular.”
Southern Africa has not been left behind in institution of policies that seek to regulate the media in an era of technological advancements as they follow the global order in intercepting technological information as a central point in security and technological advancement.

“Just recently, Zambia fast tracked a cyber-security law, Zimbabwe enacted one, and other countries such as Botswana, Namibia, Lesotho and Mauritius are in the process of enacting theirs. In 2021 the South African Constitutional Court ruled that the Regulation of Interception of Communications and provision of Communication related information Act (RICA) is unconstitutional.” Golden Maunganidze the MISA Regional Chairperson said.

According to the report, “Surveillance of journalists has become a very topical and controversial issue that now requires attention at a number of levels – the state, CSOs, and journalism organisations themselves…At least three Southern African countries, Botswana, Zambia and Zimbabwe have acquired sophisticated tool developed by an Israeli company, Circles, which they use to monitor behaviour of their citizens online.”

The report urged journalist’s and activist’s to note the three forms of surveillance as, “Electronic communication surveillance- surveillance of email, instant messenger, text and voice, tapping, bugging, NSO surveillance tools, Public space surveillance- using existent public space like CCTV infrastructure to monitor where journalists go, who they meet, which places they visit, also included here is video tapping and Geo-location surveillance- the use of location technologies such as GPS, or IP addresses to identify and track the whereabouts of connected electronic devises.”

The report recommended investigative journalists to make sure that they protect their families, friends, contacts and sources by not maintaining weak passwords as being hacked could render them vulnerable.

“Not only does using your personal accounts potentially expose you (and by extension your friends and family) to the subject of your investigation, but it could also alert them to the fact that they are being investigated in the first place.”

Futhermore, “Even the most secure encryption is rendered null if your passwords are weak or compromised. A determined hacker can gain access to your accounts using ‘brute force’ techniques that sequentially tries a database of common passwords.” The report emphasised.

The report which comes as media globally are more threatened by the continued regulation on the cyberspace as governments seek control of the cyberspace citing the growth in decadence, crime, hate, misinformation was collaborated by MISA Regional, Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensic Research Lab (DFRLab), Digital Society, with support from USAID, Internews, and Advancing Rights In Southern Africa (ARISA).

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