Tips for Journalists Reporting From China

Jingjing and Chacha are watching you As you may know there’s a huge Internet censorship going on in China. Contrary to promises made by chinese authorities and the International Olympic Committee (IOC) this Internet censorship is active during the Olympic Games even in the international media centre. And the IOC shares the current ideas of censorship in China.

And as in every political system with totalitarian elements there’s a good chance you will meet some angry lackeys if you’re going to report about topics the chinese authorities don’t want you to report. But more important they will threat your sources if their identity gets revealed. So if you want to report about the water shortage in the villages around Beijing, the massive air pollution in Beijing or about all the forced resettlements going on in China you should consider some security precautions to protect you and your sources.

Especially there’s two things to do here: First you have to use technologies to circumvent firewalls. Second is to secure your connections and your communication to protect you and your sources.

And remember that you have to protect your Computer before arriving in China because websites like the Tor project are blocked in China.

Circumvent China’s great firewall and secure your connections

The easiest way to get around the firewall is to install Tor, Psiphon or Proxify to fog your IP address and your location. A better way would be using a VPN (Virtual Private Network) connection or an SSL tunnel. This way all of your internet connections are secure and encrypted. If you’re working for a bigger news agency there’s a good chance they have its own VPN and you can connect securely to that as well. Just ask your IT department for how to achieve this.

Secure your Communication

After you have secured your connection data you have to make sure your communication is secure as well to protect you and your sources.

E-Mail

If you use mails be sure to encrypt everything, your logins with SSL/TLS and the mails itself either with GPG/PGP or certificates.

Skype

Just don’t download Skype while being in China! If you want to use Skype be sure to download it outside of China. But remember that it’s not possible to secure your Skype chats and calls because they can’t be encrypted.

Chat

Here you should use encryption as well. Members of .Mac/MobileMe can have encrypted chats with iChat. For all the others there’s Off-The-Record Messaging (OTR) which can be used with every chat protocol out there.

Phone/Mobile

Reporters Without Borders advise to use different SIM cards especially if you’re going to contact “sensitive” people.

Secure your Computer and physical data

Even without any data or other communication going on with your computer there are some critical things to remember in terms of security.

Especially encrypting sensible data on your computer is always a good thing to do. On the Mac you can just activate FileVault. On Windows Vista you can activate Bitlocker and on Linux you can use TrueCrypt (which can be used on Mac and Windows too). This way sensible data (your contact lists!) are encrypted and can only be recovered with the appropriate password.

Another good hint is to use an EFI or BIOS password which has to be entered when you start your computer. But this alone won’t protect you that much because your hard drive can easily be removed and accessed. But if the hard drive is encrypted too you have relatively great security against chinese authorities.

If you want to know more about how to protect you and your sources be sure to check out these great resources:

Advice for foreign journalists covering human rights situation during Beijing Games (Reporters Without Borders)

Handbook for Bloggers and Cyber-Dissidents (Reporters Without Borders)

Reporters’ Guide to China (Foreign Correspondents Club of China)