Privacy questions remain unresolved


With the project we did for this week, a scavenger hunt that canvasses public records and other information available just by knowing the address, we have realized how much access we have to other people’s lives.

Of course it depends on the laws in each state. However, in Florida (where we will be at least four years) the Chapter 119 of the Florida statutes, commonly known as Florida’s “Public Records Law,” provides information on public records in Florida, including policies, definitions, exemptions, general information on records access, inspection, examination and duplication of records.

One always thinks that less regulation is better, there is a valuable transparency. The question is if laws should change as technology keeps moving on and developing? As we realized in the scavenger hunt, most of the records that we needed to look for were also available online. Should we trust the Internet that much? Does it mean that is available to anyone in the world who wants to access the website?

The dilemma is not too far from other simple things. Another thing that people have been discussing since 2015 is privacy rights and drones. Drones have become something more common through the years; whether it is for videos, reporting, visuals or just for fun (we even have drones in the School of Communication). However, currently there are laws to protect individuals against people stalking or spying on them in their homes but there are no federal laws in place that would protect individuals from being spied on by a drone.

Nobody knows where state law stands. Some argue that low-flying drones are trespassers. From the late 16th century, the common law took the position that property ownership extended infinitely into the heavens. Everything changed in the era of aviation establishing a limit. Ever since the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1946 decision in U.S. v. Causby, it has been generally accepted that the property rights of a homeowner end 83 feet above the ground. That’s awfully close to the ground. Peeking in apartment window when recording high definition video from 100 feet up doesn’t present any sort of challenge.

Some suggested that property owners had to be granted control of the airspace to exclude any drones below a specific altitude; others said that there had to be an agreement with companies. It is still an unresolved matter, however, Sen. Edward J. Markey of Massachusetts introduced legislation last March that aims to create privacy protections and data reduction requirements about the information a drone collects, disclosure provisions for when data collection is happening and warrant requirements for law enforcement.

The FBI impersonates news source


It was recently discovered that, back in 2007, the FBI created a fake news story impersonating the Seattle Times. The bureau’s reasoning behind fabricating the story was that they used a link to the article to catch the suspect responsible for multiple bomb threats to a local high school.

The Seattle Times is now claiming that it is “outraged” by the FBI’s actions. The question on the table now is: Is this matter of dealing with someone’s First Amendment rights?

The FBI did not stop the Seattle Times from printing whatever they choose to, which is typically the issue I always thought the First Amendment was there to protect. However, the key word in that sentence is choose. The Seattle Times did not chose to publish or have their name associated with that story. Instead, the FBI put words into the mouth of the paper.

Should it now be included and made clear that the press has the right to post, or not to post?

It’s questionable whether or not the FBI’s actions infringed on anyone’s First Amendment rights. What is clear, however, is that this information of the FBI’s involvement could impact reader’s opinions of the Seattle Times, and has the potential to discredit the reputation of the news source.

Taking it a step further, if the FBI could so easily do this with one news source, why couldn’t they with other sources?

I don’t believe this incident will lead journalists to begin questioning all sources of news. Still, I think it will raise questions about how the general public knows what is legitimate or not when it comes to news sources and this might make some journalists’ jobs harder.

Using anonymous sources in reporting


For a long list of reasons, it is better to use the names of sources that are willing to be quoted in an news article. However, sometimes sources don’t want their names to be revealed because they have fear of the valuable information they’re giving.

As an ethical rule, journalists should not reveal a person’s identity unless that person gives consent. Nonetheless, frequent use of anonymous sources has become a controversial issue.

If, for example, you are reporting a story on a city mayor who is stealing money from the city and you find a knowledgeable source that works with the mayor. The source tells you everything the mayor does and reveals he or she is stealing money. Then, the source gives you details about the mayor’s corrupt activities but tells you to keep his identity secret because otherwise he would get fired.

If you want to be a professional journalist and keep your job, you must be willing to keep that promise of not revealing the source’s name even if you confront extreme pressure to reveal this confidential information.

When a journalist wants to uncover a big secret and produce a good story of public interest, anonymous sources are often key for revealing these quality stories.

Nevertheless, the protection of source’s identities can result in journalists facing jail and paying fines for contempt of court charges. If journalists want to avoid jail or fines, judges can make them reveal information even when it has been promised to keep the secret.

According to the Society of Professional Journalists, the legal protection provided to journalists to protect confidential sources is not 100 percent secure. “Judith Miller, a New York Times journalist, for example, spent three months in jail for refusing to identify the source of the leak that Valerie Plame worked for the CIA.”

The right of journalists to use and not reveal confidential sources is being debated. Some police officers and judges tend to argue that journalists have no right to make people anonymous and protect their information when these sources are subject of crime investigation.

Anonymity is a serious matter in journalism. Journalists are being more pressured than ever to reveal secret sources. As future journalists, we have to resist this pressure in order to maintain our ethical standards in this profession.

Just how much do we need to know?


For journalists, reporting involves deciding what is newsworthy as well as what is ethical.

Such considerations are currently up for debate surrounding the dissemination of the video of journalist James Foley’s beheading by ISIS last month. Some argue that the video should not be banned as such censorship infringes on First Amendment rights. Others see the video as too gruesome and say it only gives ISIS the publicity they so strongly desire.

The first question to be asked is, Is the story newsworthy? Since it involves human rights and terrorism it is indeed a story of public interest. Furthermore, the ISIS militant in the video gives a “message to America” explaining that Foley’s death is the result of U.S. military intervention so it is of public concern for American citizens and residents.

But is sharing the footage ethical and even necessary for telling the story?

Death is a personal experience. A devout Catholic, Foley spoke of prayer on multiple occasions. For Foley, the moments leading up to his death were likely very spiritual, which is often considered a private matter. According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, people should be aided to “live their last moments in dignity and peace.”

The revisiting of his barbaric execution by viewers is not respecting the emphasis his faith places on having a peaceful death. And while it was most certainly an honorable death, I doubt it to be the moment by which Foley would like to be remembered.

While in the moments leading to his death Foley would not have had any expectation of privacy since he was aware of ISIS’ motivation in filming it, this cannot be used as grounds for arguing that he forfeited his right to privacy. Foley had no choice.

On Aug. 20, the day after Foley’s murder, the New York Post published a picture of Foley with the ISIS militant holding the knife blade to his throat moments before making the fatal cut. There is no question that this blatant display went much too far.

While the inclusion of such pictures on pages deep within a newspaper may be up for debate, featuring them on the front page is inexcusable. Cover pages do not give the option for viewer discretion. Just as there are laws protecting children from exposure to obscene material, should this graphic image be accessible to the eyes of young children walking to school?

Sure, a New York Post reporter didn’t film the event and therefore can’t be blamed for the act of invasion of privacy, but is a news organization’s decision to disseminate it equally at fault?

The decision of whether the material containing graphic visuals should be public comes down to deciding whether the gory footage of Foley’s death is a ‘need to know’ or a ‘want to know’ situation.

How Aereo could change television


Since its debut in February 2012, Aereo has been a bone of legal contention among big broadcast networks. Aereo is a subscription-based service which allows users to stream live and time-shifted over-the-air signals to virtually any device — television, cell phone, or tablet.

The big names in broadcast television, such as ABC, NBC, CBS, and Fox, expressed animosity toward Aereo, claiming that the service violates copyright laws and undermines the long-standing tradition of cable companies paying retransmission fees to the networks.

The U.S. Supreme Court is set to hear the case beginning April 22, 2014.

However, some small and independent broadcasters (SIBs) and low power TV stations recently claimed that they back Aereo. They enjoy the exposure that Aereo gives their businesses.

Some of these stations told the court that they “depend heavily on such user-friendly viewing technologies to reach audiences, especially audiences who may not have viewing equipment, cable, or satellite television.”

The fate of SIBs is in the hands of the Supreme Court. If Aereo is found to not violate copyright laws (meaning their streams are not found to constitute as public performances), it could be a game changer.

No broadcast networks have ever really been able to compete with the “Big Three” with the exception of Fox, which came onto the scene in 1996. Since then, even with the availability of news from other platforms, the four biggest networks have reigned supreme.

But, if Aereo allows for streaming at a rate cheaper than cable, the large networks may lose some of their power. This is not to say that SIBs will trump the media giants, but they will definitely have the opportunity to offer a little competition.

Additionally, it is interesting to note that cable and broadcast networks were at odds when cable was first introduced. Aereo may create an alliance against a common foe. Both networks and cable companies will lose money and audiences with Aereo, and at least cable networks pay retransmission fees to the networks.

I personally doubt that the Supreme Court will find Aereo legal, unless networks and Aereo work out some sort of retransmission deal.

On the other hand, if Aereo is approved, the way we watch television could change forever.  In today’s digital age, few care about the platform of entertainment or information as long as they get it, which makes the convenience of Aereo an increasingly appealing option.

Lack of protection for a reporter


The Washington Times is preparing a lawsuit after federal agents invaded the Maryland home of award-winning investigative reporter, Audrey Hudson, and confiscated her notes.

The agents had a warrant, but it was for unregistered firearms that belonged to her husband. Only after they left did Hudson realize that some of her notes, which included interviews with confidential sources, were missing. The notes pertained to her reporting on problems within the Department of Homeland Security’s federal air marshal service.

During the raid, a Homeland Security agent asked Hudson if she was the reporter who had written the air marshal stories for The Times.When she was interviewed, she said, “There is no reason for agents to use an unrelated gun case to seize the First Amendment protected materials of a reporter. This violates the very premise of a free press, and it raises additional concerns when one of the seizing agencies was a frequent target of the reporter’s work.”

The Coast Guard, which orchestrated the raid, says there was no wrongdoing.

The Times says the search and seizure was unconstitutional because the warrant was specifically for firearms and communication related to the acquisition of firearms. The damage is done, however; the department had Hudson’s notes for more than a month.

Press regulation in UK could spread


There is an argument going on right now about whether or not press regulation in the United Kingdom is going to destroy journalism or actually prevent journalists from abusing their jobs.

Supporters of the charter say that the press in the UK has failed in self-regulation and that this new charter will be the answer in keeping journalists in check.  The charter includes a number of penalties for when journalists do something they’re not supposed to.

I have read that some people think this charter is a blessing in disguise because it is the best way to keep the government fully off the press’ back. It is a shield that is preventing a full regulation that could for sure affect how journalists do their job.

But many journalists in the UK are angry. There is a battle between the journalists who are for and against the charter. There are some who see it as a compromise with the government, but the others are very angry because they were the ones who were involved in implementing it, instead of stopping it.

I think this is in a way a violation to freedom of the press. Journalists have always had the right to regulate themselves. I understand, however, why they are implementing a charter to regulate and watch over the journalists. In 2012, the UK had incident in where multiple high profile cell phones were hacked by journalists and that is completely wrong.

After reading about this, I was also reminded of Princess Diana’s death and how the paparazzi were a big part of it. I’m sure the UK is just fed up with interference from journalists.

What needs to be watched is that the charter does not abuse their power and take things too far by implementing laws that really do violate journalists’ freedoms. So far it’s borderline, but it can easily be taken to another level.

I also have to wonder if other countries will take a similar route. What if it becomes a domino effect? The U.S. could be next. There could be a charter here as well regulating the press.  The UK has always been known to set a standard. Perhaps this is just the beginning. This could possibly be the future for ALL of journalism around the globe.

Technology fuels public domain debate


Anyone who reads the 10 Commandments understands them quite clear: Thou shall not steal. And nowadays that can also mean: Thou shall not covet thy neighbor’s computer files and text messages.

But one recent news story suggests it’s not quite that simple. New technology has hyped the debate over what should be in the public domain, but done nothing to clarify the answers.

One of the principal reasons is that the audience is participating and opposing, in real time, as journalists decide what subjects are fair game.

Many websites obtain information, verify its authenticity, and ask the right questions about what is of valid public interest.

One example is a website called TechCrunch, that did this through Twitter.

The site posted, instead, information that cut more to the nature of Twitter’s business: financial projections, product plans and notes from executive strategy meetings and “talked about the Facebook threat and when and how they might sell the company,” adding “that is immensely interesting from a news perspective.”

The TechCrunch crew correctly noted that the public seemed much less exercised about previous instances in which media outlets, including the Wall Street Journal, published internal company documents from Yahoo and other firms.

In many other instances over the decades, as important as the Pentagon Papers, journalists have depended on internal documents to tell the real story.

In many of those cases, the documents were effectively “stolen,” pushed by employees who ignored confidentiality rules to put information into the public domain.

Protecting juveniles in the news media


In a small town in northeast Washington, an 11-year-old boy was convicted of attempting to murder his fellow fifth-grade classmate.

Stevens County Superior Court Judge Allen Nielson supported the statement that this elementary school student devised his murder plot earlier this year with another classmate.

On Feb. 7, the boys brought a knife and handgun to school. Another student spoke up after seeing the students weapons in one of the boys backpacks. Before the boys could carry out their plot the school staff seized both the weapons.

A school counselor named Debbie Rodgers interviewed the older of the two boys. He admitted that his plan was to stab the girl to death because she was “really annoying” and the second boy was going to point the gun at anyone who tried to intervene.

One of the boys also tried to justify their actions by stating, “she’s rude and always made fun of me and my friends.”

The two boys also told authorities they were going to “get,” or murder, six more students at their school, Fort Colville Elementary School.

The convicted juvenile criminal is due back in court on Nov. 8 for a sentence hearing. He was sentenced to three to five years in a juvenile detention facility.

Both of these Juveniles names were not mentioned on news reports and neither were their pictures or anything to give away their identity.

Juveniles have confidentiality protection that adults do not have. Many believe this is the case because the states have a strong desire to rehabilitate the lives of juvenile delinquents and protect their reputation by not reporting their names to the press.

This issue does not prevent newspapers from reporting the stories and certain distinctions are made to decide if releasing the name of a child criminal will defame his/her reputation.

I personally believe that a child who is positively guilty of murder shouldn’t have their identity protected or hidden from the media just because of their age. Anyone who is capable of such a crime should be recognized as a criminal and the public should be aware of his or her identity.

I understand that if your name is in the news mentioning that you are a murderer, your life weather in jail or out of jail is permanently damaged due to your reputation and records.

If you are under the age of 18 and committed a crime you will most likely have a longer life to live with this reputation. I understand the theory behind protecting these children from the media, but I do not agree with it.

For more information on the elementary school case visit:

White House makes reporting harder


It has come to the attention of many that the Obama Administration has been much more strict when it comes the information that is released to reporters. Information about the government is under a strong lock and key.

It is even said that the Obama Administration has been more secretive than the Bush Administration.

Many people have been suspected of leaking classified information to journalists. The Insider Threat Program was implemented to watch for people like this. They have been subject to lie detecting tests, surveillance while at work, the retrieval of emails and other harsh forms of investigations.

It is argued that this is an invasion of privacy and that Obama Administration is taking it too far.

Public officials have been much more resistant to speaking to reporters. People in the journalism field have been complaining profusely and The Committee to Protect Journalists conducted an examination of the U.S. press freedoms. They decided to do this because of the rising number of prosecutions and seizures of journalists’ records.

I believe that there is a fine line that both journalists and the government shouldn’t cross on both ends of the spectrum.

Of course, national security is a serious topic that needs to be respected, especially after events like 9/11. But the government also cannot withhold too much information about the U.S. Citizens have a right to know what is going on in their country.

I think it is wrong that the Justice Department is secretly seizing phone calls from the Associated Press and then wrongly prosecuting many people, which includes many journalists.

It is a journalist’s job to report this information. They are only trying to do their job. Journalists need to continue to fight for their rights to know as much information as possible. I suppose the next step would be for journalists to push a revision of the investigation techniques that have been used to stop leaks.

California law impacts journalists


The governor of California, Jerry Brown, has recently signed a law that expands protections for journalists.

It reigns in the control of federal prosecutors by giving journalists a five days’ notice before they serve the reporters subpoenas on their records, so that they cannot leak them to the media.

This way, the government agencies’ ability to seize journalists’ records is substantially curbed. They must first give a notice to reporters and news organizations before seeking a subpoena of journalistic information. This information refers to that of a third party, such as internet service providers and cell phone companies.

This law comes about after the Justice Department’s investigation of leaks about a Yemen conspiracy to bomb a U.S. airliner in 2012. The government’s agents had seized phone records from the Associated Press without first notifying them.

In July the Justice Department pledged to notify news organizations if a subpoena on information is being sought.

Here in Florida, the government has existing shield laws and court-recognized privileges  for journalists and the media.

Although this a law enacted in California, an action like this affects the country as a whole and the journalists who report and write in it.

As seen throughout American history, when one state enacts a law, it says something about the state of the country and its policies as a whole.

The United States, though it is a democratic country with freedoms of press and speech, it ranks as low as 47th in the world by the Press Freedom Index created by Reporters Without Borders.

Though the California law mirrors the new media regulations put in place at the federal level, concerns over the way the Occupy protests were handled and the fact that the First Amendment is being taken for granted mean our government must keep moving towards total press freedom.

The Founding Fathers wrote the First Amendment in order for Americans to be able to truly express themselves and seek truth and righteousness from our government. As Americans, we can never lose sight of that.

As Abraham Lincoln implored in his Gettysburg Address, the world “can never forget what they did here.”

The only way we can have a truly free democracy is if we have a truly free press, existing sans restrictions that prohibit the public from knowing the truth in order to spark debate and have a government by the people, for the people.