Cryptic journalism: News reporting of encryption.
In light of Edward Snowden’s global surveillance disclosures, this article examines news discourses about online communication security and surveillance circumvention practices. It analyses 1249 news reports mentioning encryption in The Guardian and The New York Times, covering a three-year period from June 2012 to June 2015 (one year before and two years after the Snowden revelations). Whilst there was a marked increase in the volume of news articles mentioning encryption post-Snowden, the context in which encryption is discussed has since shifted from an initial emphasis on “surveillance” towards “security” issues. However, the research found that greater news coverage of encryption did not necessarily mean an increase in depth of coverage, with most mentions of encryption vague and non-descript. In terms of source usage, the research finds an emphasis on private corporations in both publications analysed. This is problematic when many of the organisations allowed to speak on encryption were those accused of colluding with the US and UK Governments to aid covert mass surveillance—the likes of Google, Facebook, Apple, Microsoft and so forth—thus providing them with a platform to exonerate themselves from the accusations. This contradictory depiction of communication security serves the status quo and prevents advancement of the “encrypted by default” communication practice called for by Snowden. This, by extension, has serious implications for both journalistic freedom and civil liberties since it helps to perpetuate the ability of nation states and corporations to conduct indiscriminate mass surveillance.