The survey, conducted by the Pew Research Center, polled 454 media figures. 64% said they believed the government has “probably collected data” about their communications.
80% said their profession made it more likely that the government would collect their data, and nearly half of those polled said they have changed the way they store and share sensitive documents because of concerns of electronic surveillance.
As many as 11% said they prefer to meet with their sources in person rather than communicate electronically. While that number may not seem high, 1 in 10 journalists preferring to meet sources on park benches like Cold War double agents is not a sign of a reassuring sign.
This isn’t unjustified paranoia. In 2013, the Justice Department revealed that they had been snooping through records of the Associated Press, ostensibly trying to uncover journalist sources responsible for government leaks.
Last year, Sharyl Attkisson, an investigative reporter with CBS News, claimed that the Obama administration was hacking into her personal computer in response to her reporting on the Justice Department’s failed gun tracking program, known as “Fast and Furious.”
A Justice Department investigation into Attkisson’s allegations found that many of her claims had mundane explanations, including a broken backspace key.
Also last year, New York Times reporter James Risen faced possible jail time after he refused to submit to a subpoena in the case of Jeffrey Sterling. The Obama administration wanted Risen to name the source for information revealed in his 2006 book, “State of War.” Government officials believed Sterling to be this source.
While Risen did not testify, Sterling was convicted of disclosing information under the Espionage Act.
This raises what may be the largest concern of US crackdown on journalists. While only 14% of respondents said that security concerns had “kept them from pursuing a story or reaching out to a particular source,” the greater concern is that government spying will frighten future sources and whistleblowers into silence.