Snowden helping develop tools to protect journalists and whistleblowers - 'to make the game a little more fair'

Whistleblower Edward Snowden is working to develop tools for journalists that he says will help protect them and their sources from government surveillance and state-sponsored hackers.

It comes as the UK government has been forced to down play fears that proposals to amend the Official Secrets Act would turn journalists and whistleblowers into criminals.

Former US intelligence officer Snowden was forced into exile after sharing confidential US intelligence documents with the press revealing the extent of mass government surveillance.

Since last year, he has been serving as president of the US-based Freedom of the Press Foundation (FPF), having joining its board in 2014.

The non-profit group, which has a team of 10 staff, claims to be “dedicated to helping support and defend public-interest journalism”.

Speaking to Wired magazine from Moscow, Snowden said the team were “trying to provide a few niche tools [for journalists] to make the game a little more fair”.

He added: “Newsrooms don’t have the bud­get, the sophistication, or the skills to defend them­selves in the current environment.”

When in 2013 Snowden set about leaking secret government files to journalists – among them Guardian columnist Glenn Greenwald, who is a co-founder of the FPF – he evaded detection by using anonymity software Tor and teaching reporters how to use encryption tool GPG by creating an online video tutorial that disguised his voice.

He told Wired his current focus was to on developing security and encryption tools that would “make this all paint-by-numbers [for journalists] instead of teaching yourself to be Picasso”.

Those in development include a hardware modification for the iPhone to detect malware on the device that is secretly transmitting a reporter’s data, such as their location.

Another, called Sunder, would act as a treasure chest of digital information that can only be opened when several passwords are combined – something journalists could use to protect a bulk of data.

The foundation is also working on an easy-to-use version of encrypted video-chat software Jitsi – used by Snowden to speak to the magazine via secure video link.

“We can’t fix the surveil­lance problem overnight,” Snowden said. “But maybe we can build a shield that will protect anyone who’s standing behind it.”

In November the UK government passed the Investigatory Powers Bill that enables the state to use electronic snooping tactics to fight crime, including widespread collection of electronic data.

Following Press Gazette’s Save Our Sources campaign, police requests to view journalists’ call records in order to identify their sources have to be signed off by judges.

But concerns remain that the applications are made in secret and so cannot be argued by news organisations in a court of law.

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