Spied on and thwarted: Is source protection still possible in view of new surveillance technologies such as state trojans?
06-16, 18:00–19:00 (Europe/Berlin), K9 (Glass House)
Language: English

For investigative reporting, journalists are increasingly working across national borders and in international research collectives. Because they deal with topics such as human trafficking, corruption and terrorism, their contacts are also an attractive target for intelligence services. This has been demonstrated not least by the revelation of the extensive use of the Pegasus spying software. In Germany, the Federal Intelligence Service is allowed to monitor communications abroad on a large scale, filtering and processing them according to keywords. The revision of the BND law in 2021 has not changed this – on the contrary: new unconstitutional regulations were included in the law. Surveillance tools like “Staatstrojaner” may also be used to a wide extent by the German authorities. With their constitutional complaint, Reporters Without Borders and the Society for Civil Liberties are fighting against the BND's escalating powers.

For everyday journalistic practice, the urgent question is what the current surveillance practice means for the way journalists work. How can they effectively protect themselves and the confidential communication with their sources? Is this even possible given the immense possibilities offered by these tools? What does it mean for human rights that their use has become a service that the state can simply buy?

The panelists will discuss which approaches exist to protect oneself and how forensic analyses of devices infected with remote forensic software help to hold the attackers accountable.

Christopher Resch is a Media Relations Officer at Reporters Without Borders Germany with a focus on the Middle East (MENA) and Southeastern Europe. Previously he reported on MENA-related topics for taz, Deutschlandfunk and Deutsche Welle and worked for the Goethe-Institut in Egypt and Saudi Arabia.

Foto: Jule Halsinger/RSF

Gibran Mena is an investigative and data journalist from Mexico. In 2018 they co-founded the organization Data Crítica, where they publishes reports on a range of issues, from industrial poisoning of water sources to gender inequality to the devastating effects of the soy and meat industry, and the inequality and corruption affecting indigenous communities. Gibran has published investigative reports in national media such as Reforma, El Universal, Periodistas de a Pie, Proceso and international outlets such as El País, El Diario, Telemundo News and Next City. Gibran is currently taking part in Reporters Without Borders Germany’s Berlin Scholarship Program.

Profile picture: RSF

Hassen Selmi is the Incident Response Lead who oversees the reactive cases at Access Now Digital Security Helpline. Part of his work is to manage analyst teams who mostly provide forensic analysis to the reported incidents, but also ensure that our response processes are updated and efficient.

Janik Besendorf has been working in the Digital Security Lab (DSL) of Reporters Without Borders since its start in 2022. At the DSL, he conducts forensic analyses of digital attacks on journalists and tries to prove attacks with state Trojans in order to make them visible and to hold the attackers responsible. He also advises journalists and activists on how to protect themselves against digital threats. Privately, he is committed to data protection and freedom of information and regularly submits IFG requests to various authorities.

Profile picture: Jule Halsinger/RSF

Peter Verlinden had been Belgian public broadcaster VRT’s Africa correspondent for 30 years. Since his retirement in 2019, he has freelanced for magazines such as Knack and Humo, as well as newspapers such as De Standaard and the online medium Doorbraak.be. He has published 15 books on the African Great Lakes region and researched, among other things, the smuggling of minerals from the Democratic Republic of Congo to Rwanda and Uganda. Because of his critical reports on the regimes of these countries, Verlinden has on several occasions been the target of operations by various intelligence services.