All online communication can potentially become public and journalists should take the necessary steps to improve its security. This was the main message from a recent workshop where 30 print, television and radio journalists from across the Arabic-speaking region participated in a human rights-based journalism and safety of journalists training workshop jointly organized by UNESCO Rabat Office, UNESCO Doha Office, OHCHR Doha-Centre, Doha Centre for Media Freedom, Higher Institute for Information and Communication (ISIC), and the Chorouk Center for Democracy, Information and Human Rights from 6 to 9 May 2014 in Rabat, Morocco.
Digital data protection has become a basic requirement for journalists who need to better protect sensitive information from falling into unwanted hands. This is especially relevant to investigative journalists who need to protect the identity of their sources or their raw data.
The four-day training included introduction to international human rights norms and conventions, practical writing workshops, and digital security training modules. UNESCO’s Ming-Kuok Lim was the trainer for the basic digital security and data protection training session. Other trainers were from OHCHR Doha-Centre, ISIC, Doha Centre for Media Freedom and Centre for Democracy, Media and Human Rights.
An informal interaction with the participants at the beginning of the session revealed that only two out of 30 participants had taken some kind of safety training in the past, while none have heard of or used readily available digital data protection tools such as VPN, TOR, and data encryption software.
“The lack of digital security skills of the participants today generally mirrors that of other journalists, according to surveys conducted in other regions,” said Lim. “More and more journalists realize the importance of digital security training but many do not have the opportunity to participate in such trainings,” he continued. Many remain apprehensive about new digital security tools and have the impression that they are “too technical or difficult to learn”.
However, simple-to-use, free and open-source digital protection software can greatly increase the security of digital communication and protect valuable data from being illegally accessed at virtually no-cost to the users.
The practical aspects of the training is grounded in international standards on safety of journalists including the UN Plan of Action on the Safety of Journalists and the Issue of Impunity spearheaded by UNESCO, the UN General Assembly Resolution A/RES/68/163 and the Human Rights Council Resolution A/HRC/21/12. These international standards all underline the importance of ensuring the safety of journalists working in both online and offline context.