Digital Security For Journalists

The Law: Security and Privacy in Context

“The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.”
–U.S. Constitution, Amendment IV

“Privacy” and “security” in digital communications with sources can be thought of as two sides of the same coin: Our ability to offer our sources a sense of security in communicating with us is directly proportional to our ability to keep their real identities private. Central to effectively maintaining this privacy in the context of digital communications, however, is understanding the “right to privacy” as codified by the legal particularities that govern information retention and exchange in the digital realm.

Understanding the source and the scope of these distinctions begins with the notion of privacy itself. What does “privacy” really mean? While most of us have a loose notion that the Fourth Amendment affords us a “right to privacy,” this isn’t precisely the case. The Fourth Amendment, as written, affords us protection from “unreasonable search” by governmental authorities which, through legal precedent has come to include a notion of “privacy” as well.