Best Practices for Journalists: Staying Safe and Identifying Physical Surveillance

22 Mar

If you were tasked with coming up with a list of some of the most dangerous, yet important professions in our society, you might immediately think of people such as police officers, firefighters, government agents and more. Though you might not necessarily think of it right away, journalism is a job that absolutely deserves a spot near the top of that collection.

Journalists are more than just people who collect, write and distribute information and other news items. They’re purveyors of the truth. They’re the champions of all that is right and honest. Journalists were deemed so important to society by our Founding Fathers that they were protected by the very first amendment to the Constitution. They’re essentially always operating with a target on their collective back as a result. Journalists are regularly under physical surveillance in today’s society by everyone from foreign governments to criminals who wish to monitor, influence, direct or otherwise harm them.

If you’re a journalist who wants to be able to stay safe and identify physical surveillance when you encounter it, here are a few key things to keep in mind.

Physical Surveillance vs. Digital Surveillance

The most important step to take in order to remain protected as a journalist involves knowing as much as you can about exactly what it is that you’re up against. Though our society is increasingly digital, people will always rely on the tried-but-true methods of physical surveillance to get what they want.

An example of physical surveillance is someone parked in a suspicious van across the street from your office, monitoring who goes in and out in an attempt to collect compromising information. Digital surveillance might be keeping an eye on your email account for similar purposes. Though they share similar characteristics, they’re still two very different approaches and should be treated as such.

Think About What Someone Would Want From You

If you really want to identify physical surveillance, you need to get inside the head of the person who might be watching you. For the sake of example, say you believe that a hidden camera might be inside your office. As the person who is being monitored, you have the benefit of knowing exactly what you’re up to — and what information or activities that someone might be interested in. Start by asking yourself a simple question: “what is this person’s goal?”

Then, you could break things down further. Where would YOU have to place that camera inside the office in an attempt to gain access to that information? Where would a listening device have to be placed in the room to hear what you’re saying on the phone? Who has access to your office who might be able to place that device, and for how long?

You can also buy a variety of devices aimed at “counteracting” these physical surveillance techniques. Lens finders can help identify hidden cameras in your home or office, and similar devices exist to help you discover discreet listening devices and more.

Suspicious Cars, People and More

The same is true if you think you’re being followed in public. Keep an eye out for people who may be standing where they don’t belong, stopping in unusual places or discreetly trying to readjust personal equipment. Be sure to filter out coincidence, however. Just because you’ve never seen someone before or they don’t look as if they’re from the area doesn’t necessarily mean they’re concerned with you. Watch for three individual signs that something (or someone) is out of the ordinary before elevating your suspicions to the next level.

At the end of the day, it’s important to remember that if you believe you’re being physically surveyed, the most important thing that you can do is to stay safe. Your end goal is not to “lose” your tail or somehow trick them or prove how otherwise clever you are. It’s to make it home at night to your family in one piece. If you think that someone is paying attention to your every move, notify others. If your gut instinct is telling you that a physical confrontation may be just on the horizon, contact the authorities as soon as you can.

 

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