February 15 2024 GM

From TCU Wiki
Glitter Meetups

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Digital Security Challenges of Journalists in Myanmar

We will talk about addressing digital security threats and challenges of journalists in Myanmar. We will be sharing insights on the dynamic contexts of risks and threats and how security trainers and experts are working on addressing some of these challenges in the country.

Notes

Can you give us some context of digital security and journalism landscape in Myanmar? What are some of the key threats journalists and activists in Myanmar experience? That is what is the contexts and nuances that we need to be paying attention in this regard?

  • The 2021 military coup destroyed media freedom in Myanmar. Since the coup, 15 news outlets have had their media licences revoked. At least 202 journalists were arrested, of which 138 have been released while the rest remain behind bars.
  • We recently conducted a study on the digital security challenges facing journalists in Myanmar, to be published soon.
  • Key threats to journalists:
    • Military checkpoints are one of the main sources of fear and risk in many areas in Myanmar, where officers may physically inspect and arrest people based on intuition and appearances. https://engagemedia.org/2024/youth-myanmar-checkpoints/
    • Arbitrary arrest and warrantless raids by security forces, where reasons for the arrest may be rationalised after the fact. Digital security apps like VPNs, encryption, and messaging apps such as Signal or Telegram may compromise journalist security as they are perceived by the military as suspicious.
    • The infrastructure of "sousveillance". While surveillance is monitoring from above (i.e. the military), sousveillance is reporting from below. The role of pro-military groups reporting in bolstering the junta’s inspection capabilities is a constantly recurring theme among the journalists we interviewed.
    • Journalists are also concerned about the broader implications of their work on family members, sources, and communities, with journalists worried about the repercussions their reporting may have on those around them.
    • Lack of support. The lack of support varies, ranging from the lack of infrastructure support such as providing journalists with banner phones and secure storage spaces to a lack of organizational Standard Operation Procedure for Safety.

About the "sousveillance", do these pro-military groups infiltrate journalist and activist spaces to report what is happening?

  • As an example, here is "Myanmar court jails photojournalist for 20 years". For this case, the journalist was traveling there by hiding his actual identity. But the ultra nationalist community at the ground, who are pro-military recognized him and it leads to the arrest.

How do they know you are using privacy preserving apps? Do they search your phone? Or this is something they are able to know through high level network monitoring?

  • In the past, this journalist was active on reporting about ultra-nationalist movement in Myanmar. He covered at lot of ultra-nationalist protests.
  • Ultra-nationalist hate him about the narrative of the reporting. And these community recognize him. These community took the picture of reporters that report their protest. By that way they recognize his face.

Thus far, how have journalists and activists, and supporting communities navigated these challenges?

  • Digital security training
    • After the 2021 military coup, digital security training shifted significantly. Before, active recruitment of participants was necessary to stress its importance, but post-coup, there has been inherent recognition of the crucial role of digital security training, reflecting the changed political and social environment.
    • While in-person sessions were the norm, security concerns post-coup rendered them unfeasible within Myanmar. Consequently, digital security training adapted, becoming predominantly online-based.
    • Notably, self-paced online courses are being developed by support groups, but their promotion is limited to trusted networks. Even publicised courses exercise caution, disseminating only basic safety information to avoid potential exploitation by the military junta.
  • Digital security clinic: a responsive approach
    • Complementing digital security training, the concept of a Digital Security Clinic has emerged within support groups after the coup. This clinic provides tailored digital security consultation support utilising various outreach and communication styles. These include a Telegram hotline-based clinic, appointment scheduling via an email-based clinic, and a Telegram chatbot-based clinic. It serves as a responsive and dynamic resource, adapting to the changing needs of individuals.
  • Informal networks
    • Informal networks Informal networks, including peers—fellow journalists and pro-democracy activists—as well as indirect experiences through stories and rumours about security threats like doxxing, significantly contribute to normalising digital security practices and popularising their adoption
  • Infrastructure support
    • Since the onset of the coup, support groups have played a crucial role in providing essential infrastructure support to activist and journalist networks, although limitations persist. The consistent distribution of VPN gift vouchers has offered a secure communication channel amid challenging circumstances. Furthermore, high-risk profile activists and journalists received additional assistance from support groups in the form of banner phones and eSIMs at the coup's initiation. However, it is important to note that this support has reached only a limited number of individuals, with many working journalists lacking adequate infrastructure support from their media houses.

Are there any alternatives for the tools like signal and telegram that journalists use since those two are "burned"?

  • Yes, if you have Signal App, it seems suspicious. So, for traveling and going though check point, you can't have this app.
  • Better to have normal messaging app that everyday people use such as messenger, viber, slack, etc.
  • It depends on the context, people need to adapt according to their need.
  • But must adopt Signal and Telegram using with disappearing message while they are at static position.

Can you describe a little more how physical searches of devices work? What does the military look for? Is it usually a quick check, or do they sometimes take the phone to the lab? And what solution do people use to protect themselves?

  • Physical search are done by manual labour. There is not standard procedure which also makes people to under estimate the risk.
  • The standard procedure depend on conflict sensitivity of the area. Usually, they have a targeted list that they are looking at, like in the major gate in an airport.
  • They are targeting people who join Civil Disobedience Movement. And hight profile journalist and activists.
  • When you have been arrested, and if they knew you are, this is high profile activist.
  • There are some report that shown that they are using technology like Cellebrite to recover data from the devices.

What does the infrastructure for psychosocial support look like?

  • We didn't have that much psychosocial support awareness before but during the Covid and after coup, there has been mainstreaming of psychosocial support. But there are limited capacity in this space and there are still room for improvement.

Is "profile" feature (available on android 13) possible to be practiced by them to separate "secure" and "usual" means of communication?

  • Yes, we also adopt this feature. But depend on the context. During our interview, there are people who met with inspectors from the military side who already knew this feature and asked them to show both profile.
  • That's why the challenge of digital security advice is now. We don't want what we are advising to journalist and activist in the public knowledge.

What are some of the resources and tools that have been used or been curated specifically to support folks from the space? Do they work? Are there specific improvements needed or details people need to pay attention to for create better resources?

How can we work towards building a more secure and safety landscape/ space for journalists in the region (obviously understanding the wider political context in this)?

  • We found SaferJourno - Digital Security Resources for Trainers of Journalists, as a useful resource but haven’t localized it into the Burmese language yet. https://saferjourno.org/
  • There is a gap in tracking and knowing more about the capacity of our adversary - particularly the military - in using digital tools and technology for surveillance and the resources they allocate for this purpose.
  • Support groups need programmatic approach for adopting a holistic approach to security.
  • There is a need to push media houses to develop Standard Operating Procedures for the safety of journalists.

What is an example of a programmatic approach?

  • Combining the Digital security, Mental Health, Physical Security.