Kirkus Reviews QR Code


The Future of the Free Press in the Surveillance State

edited by Emily Bell & Taylor Owen & Smitha KhoranaJennifer R. Henrichsen

Pub Date: Feb. 7th, 2017
ISBN: 978-0-231-17613-2
Publisher: Columbia Univ.

Forget going to jail to protect your source—the government can simply identify her through metadata.

In 2013, Edward Snowden famously absconded with an enormous cache of files documenting mass data collection by the American National Security Agency and four allied governments; their publication by the Guardian and the Washington Post had wide-ranging consequences. Bell (Professional Practice and Digital Journalism/Columbia Journalism School) and Owen (Digital Media and Global Affairs/Univ. of British Columbia) present 20 essays by contributors with backgrounds in journalism, digital media, and law about the significance for journalists of the capabilities exposed by Snowden and resulting obstacles to reporting on politically sensitive issues. Among others, the contributors include Steve Coll, Clay Shirky, Glenn Greenwald, and Julia Angwin. The collection is not an in-depth analysis of a single problem but is more like a conference with brief workshops focusing on narrow but related topics. Most of the essays deal with some practical aspect of the relationship of a free press to a democratic government—i.e., under what circumstances should journalists be permitted to publish government secrets? What can a government do to prevent the exposure of secrets, and what can the press do to circumvent these actions? Other essays move beyond these core concerns to more tangential topics ranging from appropriate limits on control of passports—Snowden's was revoked while he was in transit—to the control of news flow by unaccountable actors like Facebook. The essays' value lies more in the issues they raise than in any solutions they may offer. Several contributors argue that many news organizations are woefully ill-prepared to protect their work and the identities of confidential sources from official snooping, and they offer specific suggestions for improvement. Many others pose thoughtful questions and a framework for considering them but could by themselves be fruitful topics for an entire book.

Suitable primarily for working journalists and others concerned with support of a free press, this is a provocative compendium of issues confronting journalism as new technologies pose an array of threats to independent reporting.