Register for the Tow Center’s Journalism Security Workshop

The Journalism Security Workshop, a three-day workshop November 22-24, 2013 at Columbia Journalism School, will provide participants with an integrated overview of how comprehensive digital and physical security practices both support and enhance journalism.

The security experts leading the Journalism Security Workshop include: Quinn Norton, a journalist, published in Wired, The Atlantic, Maximum PC, and more; Frank Smyth, executive director of Global Journalist Security, a private consulting and training firm, and senior advisor for journalist security at at the nonprofit Committee to Protect JournalistsNabiha Syed is a media lawyer at Levine Sullivan Koch & Schulz and a Yale Information Society Project FellowSeamus Tuohy, associate technologist for the Open Technology Institute at the New America Foundation; Chris Walker, who presently working to strengthen digital security training methodologies for activists and to develop an open-source auditing framework that will help small, local human rights organizations identify, understand, prioritize and address their most urgent vulnerabilities; and Carol Waters, Project Manager at Internews, an international NGO that fosters independent media and access to information worldwide.

Story, Source & Self Protection: Essential Security Practices for Journalists

Yes, security has become the buzz word of the journalistic world thanks to everything from the AP phone records seizure to the NSA surveillance revelations that continue to make news. But furor over these events obscures the fact that strategic management of information is a core feature of any professional journalistic practice, from maintaining source relationships to executing FOIA requests and protecting sensitive or exclusive documents.

What’s changed in the last 20 years are the mechanisms and “default settings” on journalists’ methods of information communication, organization and retrieval. The legal landscape, whose protections for journalists were relatively mature in their consideration of traditional reporting and publication methods, have fractured under the stress of novel challenges created by digital, networked and mobile communication technologies. In order to serve the core mission of the press, journalists and news organizations’ practices must be responsive to the changing conditions in the technical and legal environments. Adapting to these updated environments is essential to carrying out the essential informational, investigative and watchdog work of journalism.

Over the course of the three day workshop, we will address three major aspects of security practice for story development and publication:

1. A coherent and functional understanding of the legal and technical exposures embedded in today’s digital communication and storage tools.
2. An appropriate framework for assessing the capabilities and interests of actors wishing to exploit those vulnerabilities.
3. An operational plan for minimizing identified risks.

While at first glance these concerns may seem to simply add complexity to the work of the journalists who, in the always-on digital world, must publish several times a day while determining in real time not just what to publish but how and where (“Is this a Tweet? A blog post? A long form article, or a video?”), we contend that security actually serves accepted editorial considerations, including libel, embargo and conflict-of-interest rules. In this sense, this workshop seeks to be an initial forum for evaluating and elaborating the foundational elements for an industry-wide standard of practice around informational security for journalists.

Participation Requirements
Participation in the workshop is free, though space is extremely limited. Attendees must commit to attending all three days of the workshop, though the official session will end by approximately 1:30pm on Sunday, November 24th.

To make the most of the unique combination of trainers and participants that we expect for the weekend, both student and professional journalists must make a small additional time commitment outside the workshop. Students will be asked to conduct and submit research on issues such as the legal status of technologies such as encryption in a country of their choosing (please see details below), while we ask that professional journalists agree to be interviewed (not necessarily on the record) about their current security practices. For exact dates and details, please review the below participation requirements and be sure meet all deadlines in order to guarantee your space.

Once registered, student participants must submit three choices for a focus country to no later than November 1, 2013. You will receive an email confirming the country you should research.

No later than noon on Monday, November 11 all registered student participants must submit, via email to, answers to the following 6 questions for their assigned country:

1. Is there SIM card registration and what kind of PII is required for activating a SIM card?

2. Are there any legal restrictions on using encryption of over the internet or over telecommunication networks in the country?

3. Are there restrictions on publishing content (Lèse majesté laws, etc) and if so, what are they? Have there been prosecutions for certain activities? Are there intermediary liability laws in the country and if so, what are they?

4. What is the degree and nature of government internet filtering?

5. Have there been incidents where the government has disrupted networks and if so, what are those incidents?

6. What are the requirements for digital identity?

Failure to meet either of these requirements will void your reservation, and your spot will assigned to the next student on the wait list.

In order to improve this and future training programs, it is important to understand the current landscape of security practice within the journalism community. To this end, we ask that professional participants make themselves available for a single 20 minute interview about their own security practices (even if you do nothing! That is part of what we want to understand), either before or during the conference. Once you have registered, someone from the Tow Center will reach out to you to arrange an interview time. If we do not have a confirmed interview slot for you by Monday, November 11, you may lose your place at the workshop, so please respond promptly to scheduling inquiries.

We also believe that interaction with professionals is an essential part of journalism training, so we ask that all professional attendees commit to working with students during group activities.

If you have any questions or comments about the above, please don’t hesitate to reach out to us via email at


Susan E. McGregor is the Assistant Professor at the Tow Center. Follow her on Twitter @SusanEMcG.