New revelations from documents released by whistleblower Edward Snowden indicate the British Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) classifies investigative journalists as a threat, similar to terrorists and hackers.
The Guardian reported on the program which monitored emails to and from journalists working for media organizations in the U.S. and the UK. In one single day, in less than 10 minutes, the GCHQ collected 70,000 emails, including emails of journalists with the BBC, Reuters, the Guardian, the New York Times, the Sun, NBC, and the Washington Post. The emails were collected through the GCHQ accessing the fiber-optic cables known as “the backbone of the internet.” The communications were then shared with staff on the agencies intranet.
Even more disturbing is a security assessment which listed “investigative journalists” as “a potential threat to security.” The document was shared among intelligence agencies promoting the idea that the activities of journalists were as much of a threat as foreign intelligence, hackers, and criminals. The agencies were specifically concerned with investigate journalists “who specialise in defence-related exposés either for profit or what they deem to be of the public interest.”
Security assessments released by the GCHQ also list journalists between “terrorism” and “hackers,” in some cases listing terrorists as a lower priority than investigative journalists. Terrorism is seen as a moderate threat compared to the work and tactics of investigative journalists. The documents warn journalists and reporters may take “a formal approach or an informal approach, possibly with off-duty personnel, in their attempts to gain official information to which they are not entitled.”
The Guardian reports that senior editors and lawyers in the UK are demanding the introduction of a freedom of expression law as fears over growing police surveillance granted by the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 (Ripa).
The fight for press freedom is not exclusive to the UK, however. Journalists in the US face monitoring by a host of federal agencies, including the NSA. It is also important to remember that President Obama has continuously persecuted whistleblowers and built a reputation around a lack of transparency and unfriendly relations to the press. In 2014 the Columbia Journalism Review reported on the U.S. dropping 13 spots in a global index on freedom. Delphine Halgand, the US Director for Reporters Without Borders, said 2013 was marked by Chelsea Manning’s 35-year sentence and the pursuit of Edward Snowden and journalists such as James Risen.
During the summer of 2014 thirty-eight journalists sent a letter to President Obama calling for more transparency from the White House. The groups accused the President of censorship and a “politically-driven suppression of the news.”
“Recent research has indicated the problem is getting worse throughout the nation, particularly at the federal level,” wrote David Cuillier, SPJ’s President and the letter’s author. “Journalists are reporting that most federal agencies prohibit their employees from communicating with the press unless the bosses have public relations staffers sitting in on the conversations.”
In October 2013 the Committee to Protect Journalist released a report titled “Leak investigations and surveillance in post-9/11 America.” The report covers the Obama Administrations attacks on the free press and implementation of surveillance measures that threaten free and independent journalism.
Most recently, USA Today Washington Bureau Chief Susan Page stated that the Obama Administration was more “restrictive” and “dangerous” than any other administration.
It is clear that governments around the world are working to restrict press freedoms and consider those who work to expose the crimes of governments as threats. Totalitarian regimes throughout history have used political assassinations and censorship to silence critics. The United States, and the United Kingdom in 2015 are no different than oppressive regimes of the past.