Journalists use different technological mediums to contact and store information about confidential sources, including government whistle-blowers. One of the most important aspects of journalism is to protect confidential informants so that news sources can still enlighten the public with important and sensitive information. Here, ethical issues come up. Documents containing information about informants’ identities may not be collected by the government without permission from the deputy attorney general. In other words, the First Amendment protects the privacy and individual ownership of these email and phone records.
For example, in 2004, the FBI illegally obtained phone records related to the confidential informants of The New York Times’ and Washington Post’s bureaus in Indonesia. The executive editors of both newspapers were called by the FBI and both received apologies. The Justice Department looked into the illegal investigation by the FBI after the FBI went ahead with what it called “emergency” gathering of private information related to an alleged terrorist investigation. The editors were never told why their records were needed.
Now news corporations are putting numerous security barriers and encryptions around their records so that nobody can gain access to them. In fact, Wikileaks, the organization that publicizes secret government documents on its website, has probably the strongest security procedures protecting its sources. Instant messages are expertly encrypted, as are all files passed between people. Also, the Tor Project, a tool that enables users to communicate anonymously, completely hides all servers. Other news companies are attempting to mimic such standards and adjust privacy policies to not reserve the right to release any information about a source “to law enforcement authorities or to a requesting third party, without notice.”

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