Journalists Use Burner Phones to Protect Privacy at Beijing Olympics

World
Thu, 3 Feb 2022 19:38 GMT
Many foreign journalists at the Beijing Winter Olympics tell VOA they have brought “burner” devices, such as phones and laptops completely wiped of personal data, to protect their digital privacy. That’s because China has a long record of surveilling and...
Journalists Use Burner Phones to Protect Privacy at Beijing Olympics

Many foreign journalists at the Beijing Winter Olympics tell VOA they have brought “burner” devices, such as phones and laptops completely wiped of personal data, to protect their digital privacy. That’s because China has a long record of surveilling and restricting journalists.

Reporters at the Beijing Olympics will not see much of Beijing at all. Instead, they will be in a closed loop, taking official buses from venue to venue. COVID-19 policies aren’t the only challenge. Another is digital privacy, and journalists are taking extraordinary steps to protect it.

James Griffiths, Asia correspondent for The Globe and Mail, a Canadian newspaper, is currently in the Beijing bubble.

“I set up a burner computer, which is what we’re talking on right now,” he said. “I have a burner phone. I even have a burner iPad with me just to be sure so none of my usual identities are on that. Most of my accounts aren’t logged into while I’m here.”

Griffiths said it is difficult to find any reporter who is not using some type of burner device at the Olympic Games.

It’s a familiar routine for those reporting in China. This week, the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of China warned media freedom is declining at “breakneck speed.”

Ahead of the Games, the Committee to Protect Journalists warned reporters to assume everything they do online will be monitored.

So far, those reporting from the Olympics bubble have reported no problems, even if they have limited mobility.

“We can operate as reporters in the closed loop without restrictions,” said Donna Spencer, a sports reporter for The Canadian Press, “but the restrictions inherent in the closed loop prevent us from doing the kind of reporting that someone who is a foreign correspondent here would do a year around.”

It may not be ideal, but Australian journalist Eryk Bagshaw said it is an acceptable tradeoff.

“Essentially you're submitting yourself to such total surveillance that there's almost freedom in that,” Bagshaw said. “There's cameras absolutely everywhere . . . you're not looking over your shoulder wondering if you're being tailed because you're speaking to a Chinese dissident.”

But even this kind of reporting has its challenges.

During his interview with VOA, Bagshaw was interrupted by authorities reminding him of a required COVID-19 test.

“I just need to finish this video interview and then I’ll come down,” he told them. “I’ll be there in 10 minutes, if that’s OK. Thank you very much. Bye … there you go. Right on it.”

Just another challenge of reporting during a pandemic in China.

Source: VoA

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