EDITOR'S NOTE: This article was originally published, in Spanish, in El País.
This week, journalists, technologists, and other human rights advocates will gather in Valencia, Spain for the Internet Freedom Festival, a multidisciplinary "un-conference" dedicated to fighting surveillance and censorship online. More than 600 people from 43 countries have registered for the festival, which is now in its second year. The gathering could not come at a more important time.
Journalists and bloggers use technology to speak uncomfortable truths to and about those in power. Inevitably, this exposes them to resentment and, far too often, retribution. Governments routinely abuse surveillance technologies andexploit technological vulnerabilities, to repressive ends.
It is a global problem. In Colombia, allegations that the government is spying on journalists have recently resurfaced, giving rise to questions about the sufficiency of the country's legal protections around surveillance. In Russia, journalists face physical attacks and intimidation for what they write online. News organizations experience network censorship attacks in Mexico and spurious copyright complaints in Ecuador. In China, where more journalists are imprisoned than anywhere else in the world, government-friendly alternatives to Facebook, Twitter, and other social media services reinforce the country's technical "great firewall" content filtering system.
The online censorship and intimidation journalists face often spill into the real world. They can be physically tracked via their phones. Once arrested, many are questioned about their online activities. And journalists, many of whom work online, are murdered for their work with tragic frequency.
Even when journalists are not being physically assaulted or censored, the threats they face cause many to take extraordinary measures to protect their stories and themselves, thus taking vital energy away from their real job of reporting the news.
Just as technology can be used to put journalists under scrutiny, however, it can work to liberate them from it. When used carefully, technology allows journalists to communicate confidentially with sources they could not safely meet, tap the Web's information for research, and even publish anonymously if necessary.