• Carlos P. Beltran

Digital Security at the U.S. Border - Interview with Ed Ou


This is a transcript from THE FREELANCE JOURNALIST 5 MINUTE TAKLSHOW podcast.

You can listen to it on iTunes.

Ed:

They asked me if I've ever seen people die. They asked me if I've been recruited by foreign governments. They asked me if I had military training.

Carlos:

Welcome to the Freelance Journalist 5 Minute Talk Show. This is Carlos P. Beltran and today we're talking to Ed Ou, Canadian visual journalist and film maker. We will be talking about digital security, especially for traveling journalists. For those of you who don't know, Ed had an unpleasant encounter with US immigration authorities as he was attempting to come into the country to cover the Dakota pipeline issue. Ed, what happened at the border?

Ed:

I recently started an assignment. To do a project on indigenous healthcare stories in Canada and North America. I was going to Standing Rock as a standard assignment to cover it as a news story, to look for context, and to do a project based off of that.

In Canada, how it works is that you go through what is called "pre clearance". You go through US customs within the Canadian Airport, but technically that's the US. When I told them I was going to go and cover Standing Rock, they put me in a room. They had a list of every country that I've been to for the last five years. Write down what you were doing in every single one of these places. Every time you've been there. What you were doing there. It's really simple for me because I have nothing to hide. Everything that I've done can be corroborated with an online news story. If someone just googled me.

Carlos:

Okay, at what point do you think, "Okay, maybe this is going a little to far?" What did they do?

Ed:

Then what happened was they asked me specifically to open up my cell phones. I told them I am a journalist and I have a responsibility to my sources to protect them. That would jeopardize a lot of people that I come into contact with. They could be our fixers. They could be our translators. They could even be a driver or an activist. People in places where journalism is for the most part a crime, just by being associated with a journalist could get in trouble. They told me that ultimately I would be denied entry. I had to go leave the customs area and go back to Canada.

Carlos:

Basically, you handled this entire situation by asserting your responsibility as a journalist to protect the anonymity of your sources. I think that stance is valid for all of us.

Ed:

The thing is a lot of people might look at my case and the case of other journalists and say, well journalists aren't above the law. That is true. We aren't above the law, but at the same time to, what's disturbing is that at any other place if the police wanted to open up their phone they would need a warrant. If the police want to search a house they would need a warrant. Why is it that this isn't the case at the borders?

It's not just journalists that should be protesting this. It's everyday citizens, because even if you think that you have nothing to hide. Would you want your doctor to be opening up their cell phones with your records? Would you want your lawyer to be forced to divulge their ... Open up their laptop to give information about a legal case that's completely confidential? Probably not.

Carlos:

This is evidently a very sensitive issue. Especially for us traveling journalists, because now I feel like we have to know the law in every country we visit on assignment. We also need to be aware of ways in which we can safe guard our digital property. Are there any resources you recommend for us to educate ourselves?

Ed:

Yeah. There is a lot of digital security handbooks. If you look at the EFF or the Freedom of the Press Foundation. There is a lot of really good resources into to telling you what programs you should be using. There is a lot of guidebooks on how to use PGP for example. That's really useful.

Carlos:

Any specific advice that you can give us, simple things that we can put into practice today?

Ed:

For example there is a lot of really easy things that you can do. If you have a MAC, just enable file vault in your system preferences and that encrypts your laptop. If you have an iPhone or any kind of smart phone just use a long password. Voice calls and traditional text messages are just not secure. Neither at times is your Gmail or Facebook. As I understand it, Signal is the best way to communicate. Then WhatsApp. You are only as secure as your weakest link.

If the people that you are communicating with aren't being prudent in securing their digital communications. Then that can get back to you. I think as freelancers and as people who work, who travel, and roam for a living. It's just something that we really need to be aware of.

Carlos:

Thank you Ed for being with us. For more short interviews and advice subscribe to this podcast. If you like what we are doing, we would love it if you could take a few seconds to leave a short review for this podcast on iTunes. This was the Freelance Journalist 5 Minute talk show. We'll see you next time.

If you're looking for free, hands-on practical advice on video production and freelance journalism, head over to www.carlospbeltran.com/tips. This was the Freelance Journalist 5 Minute Talkshow. We'll see you next time.

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