Big Brother at the border

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Border Forces cover

Border Forces – how barriers to free thought got tough

Travelling to the USA this summer, journalist James Dyer, who writes for Empire magazine, says he was not allowed in until he had been questioned by an immigration official about whether he wrote for those “fake news” outlets.

Also this year, David Mack, deputy director of breaking news at Buzzfeed News, was challenged about the way his organisation covered a story at the US border by an official.

He later received an official apology from the Customs and Border Protection service for being questioned on this subject, which is not on the official list of queries that officers are expected to use.

As we go to press, the UK Foreign Office updated its advice for travellers going between Hong Kong and China warning that their electronic devices could be searched.

This happened a day after a Sky journalist had his belongings, including photos, searched at Beijing airport. US citizen Hugo Castro told Index how he was held for five hours at the USA-Mexico border while his mobile phone, photos and social media were searched.

This kind of behaviour is becoming more widespread globally as nations look to surveil what thoughts we have and what we might be writing or saying before allowing us to pass.

This ends with many people being so worried about the consequences of putting pen to paper that they don’t. They fret so much about being prevented from travelling to see a loved one or a friend, or going on a work trip, that they stop themselves from writing or expressing dissent.

If the world spins further in this direction we will end up with a global climate of fear where we second-guess our desire to write, tweet, speak or protest, by worrying ourselves down a timeline of what might happen next.

So what is the situation today? Border officials in some countries already seek to find out about your sexual orientation via an excursion into your social media presence as part of their decision on whether to allow you in.

Travel advisors who offer LGBT travel advice suggest not giving up your passcodes or passwords to social media accounts. One says that, before travelling, people can look at hiding their social media posts from people they might stay within the destination country. Digital security expert Ela Stapley suggests going further and having an entirely separate “clean” phone for travelling.

These actions at borders have not gone unnoticed by technology providers. The big dating apps are aware that information to be found in their spaces might also prove of interest to immigration officials in some countries.

This summer, Tinder rolled out a feature called Traveller Alert – as Mark Frary reports on – which hides people’s profiles if they are travelling to countries where homosexuality is illegal. Borders are getting bigger, harder and tougher. 

It is not just about people travelling, it’s also about knowledge and ideas being stopped. As security services and governments get more tech-savvy, they see more and more ways to keep track of the words that we share. Surely there’s no one left out there who doesn’t realise the messages in their Gmail account are constantly being scanned and collected by Google as the quid pro quo for giving you a free account?

Google is collecting as much information as it can to help it compile a personal profile of everyone who uses it. There’s no doubt that if companies are doing this, governments are thinking about how they can do it too – if they are not already. 

And the more they know, the more they can work out what they want to stop.

[/vc_column_text][vc_row_inner][vc_column_inner width=”1/4″][vc_icon icon_fontawesome=”fa fa-quote-left” color=”custom” size=”xl” align=”right” custom_color=”#dd3333″][/vc_column_inner][vc_column_inner width=”3/4″][vc_custom_heading text=”Border officials in some countries already seek to find out about your sexual orientation via an excursion into your social media presence as part of their decision on whether to allow you in” font_container=”tag:h3|text_align:left” google_fonts=”font_family:Libre%20Baskerville%3Aregular%2Citalic%2C700|font_style:400%20italic%3A400%3Aitalic”][/vc_column_inner][/vc_row_inner][vc_column_text]

In democracies such as the UK, police are already experimenting with facial recognition software. Recently, anti-surveillance organisation Big Brother Watch discovered that private shopping centres had quietly started to use facial recognition software without the public being aware. 

It feels as though everywhere we look, everyone is capturing more and more information about who we are, and we need to worry about how this is being used.

One way that this information can be used is by border officials, who would like to know everything about you as they consider your arrival. What we’ve learned in putting this special issue together is that we need to be smart, too. Keep an eye on the laws of the country you are travelling to, in case legislation relating to media, communication or even visas change.

Also, have a plan about what you might do if you are stopped at a border. One of the big themes of this magazine over the years is that what happens in one country doesn’t stay in one country. What has become increasingly obvious is that nation copies nations, and leader after leader spots what is going on across the way and thinks: “I could use that too.”

We saw troll factories start in Mexico with attempts to discredit journalists’ reputations five years ago, and now they are widespread. The idea of a national leader speaking directly to the public rather than giving a press conference, and skipping the “need” to answer questions, was popular in Latin America with President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, of Argentina, and Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez.

A few years later, national leaders around the world have grabbed the idea and run with it. It’s so we don’t have to filter it through the media, say the politicians. While there’s nothing wrong, of course, with having town hall chats with the public, one has a sneaking suspicion that another motivation might be dodging any difficult questions, especially if press conferences then get put on hold. Again, Latin America saw it first.

Given this trend, we can expect that when one nation starts asking for access to your social media accounts before they give you a visa, others are sure to follow. The border issue is broader than this, of course. Migration and immigration are issues all over the world right now, topping most political agendas, along with security and the economy. Therefore, governments are seeking to reduce immigration and restrict who can enter their countries – using a variety of methods.

In the USA and the UK, artists, academics, writers and musicians are finding visas harder to come by. As our US contributing editor, Jan Fox, reports, this has led to an opera singer removing posts from Facebook because she worries about her visa application, and academics self-censoring their ideas in case it limits them from studying or working in the USA. Where does this leave free expression? Less free than it should be, certainly. This is not the only attack on freedom of expression. Making it more difficult for outsiders to travel to these countries means stories about life in Yemen, Syria and Iran, for instance, may not be heard.

We don’t hear firsthand what it is like, and our knowledge shrinks. This policy surely reached a limit when Kareem Abeed, the Syrian producer of an Oscar-nominated documentary about Aleppo, was initially refused a visa to at-tend the Oscar ceremony. Meanwhile, UK festival directors are calling for their government to change its attitude and warn that artists are already excluding the UK from their tours.

One person who knew the value of getting information out beyond the borders of the country he lived in was a former editor of this magazine, Andrew Graham-Yooll, and we honour his work in this issue. His recent death gave us a chance to review his writing for us and for others. A consummate journalist, Graham-Yooll continued to write and report until just weeks before his death, and I know he would have had his typing fingers at the ready for a critique of what is happening in the Argentinian election right now.

Graham-Yooll took the job of editor of Index on Censorship in 1989, after being forced to leave his native Argentina because of his reporting. He had been smuggling out reports of the horrifying things that were happening under the dictatorship, where people who were activists, journalists and critics of the government were “disappearing” – a soft word that means they were being murdered. Some pregnant women were taken prisoner until they gave birth. Their babies were taken from them and given to military or government-friendly families to adopt, while the mothers were drugged and then dropped to their death, from airplanes, at sea.

Many of the appalling details of what happened under the authoritarian dictatorship only became clear after it fell, but Graham-Yooll took measures to smuggle out as many details as he could, to this publication and others, until he and his family were in such danger he was forced to leave Argentina and move to the UK.

Throughout history the powerful have always attempted to suppress information they didn’t want to see the light. We are in yet another era where this is on the rise.


Rachael Jolley is editor-in-chief of Index on Censorship magazine. She tweets @londoninsider. This article is part of the latest edition of Index on Censorship magazine, with its special report on border forces

Index on Censorship’s autumn 2019 issue is entitled Border forces: how barriers to free thought got tough

Look out for the new edition in bookshops, and don’t miss our Index on Censorship podcast, with special guests, on Soundcloud.

[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column width=”1/3″][vc_custom_heading text=”How barriers to free thought got tough” font_container=”tag:h3|text_align:left” link=”|||”][vc_column_text]The autumn 2019 Index on Censorship magazine looks at borders round the world and how barriers to free thought got tough[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][vc_column width=”1/3″][vc_row_inner][vc_column_inner][vc_single_image image=”108826″ img_size=”full” onclick=”custom_link” link=””][/vc_column_inner][/vc_row_inner][/vc_column][vc_column width=”1/3″][vc_custom_heading text=”Subscribe” font_container=”tag:h3|text_align:left”][vc_row_inner][vc_column_inner][vc_column_text]In print, online. In your mailbox, on your iPad.

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Contents: Border forces: how barriers to free thought got tough

[vc_row][vc_column][vc_custom_heading text=”With contributions from Kerry Hudson, Chen Xiwo, Elif Shafak, Meera Selva, Steven Borowiec, Brian Patten and Dean Atta”][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]

Border Forces cover

Border forces – how barriers to free thought got tough

The autumn 2019 Index on Censorship magazine looks at how borders are getting tougher, journalists are being stopped, visas refused and border officials are snooping into our social media profiles and personal messages. Nations are looking to surveil our thoughts before allowing us to come into their countries and so limiting freedom of expression and the free flow of ideas.

In this issue Steven Borowiec reports from South Korea about how the law means that you can be prosecuted for contacting your relatives in the north without permission; Meera Selva looks at how internet shutdowns are being used round the world to prevent people communicating, most recently in Kashmir; Mark Frary gives tips for LGBT people on how to protect themselves when crossing borders into countries where they might face discrimination.  Charlotte Bailey and Jan Fox look at how it is getting tougher in the UK and USA for artists, writers and academics to get visas; and Kaya Genç digs into Turkey’s censorship of the internet. In the rest of the magazine, writers Emilie Pine, Elif Shafak and Kerry Hudson, and theatre director Nicholas Hytner reflect on past famous Index contributors, Václav Havel, Nadine Gordimer, Samuel Beckett and Arthur Miller. We have an extract of the script of the 1977 film Le Camion by Marguerite Duras which has never appeared in English before, and poems by taboo-breaking poet Dean Atta and the Liverpool Poet Brian Patten. We also have an extract of a story by censored Chinese writer Chen Xiwo about a mother and her daughter and their abusive relationship. Plus Index magazine’s first ever crossword by Herbashe.

[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_custom_heading text=”Special Report: Border forces: how barriers to free thought got tough”][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]Big brother at the border by Rachael Jolley

Switch off, we’re landing! by Kaya Genç Be prepared that if you visit Turkey online access is restricted

Culture can “challenge” disinformation by Irene Caselli  Migrants trying to cross the Mediterranean to Europe are often seen as statistics, but artists are trying to tell stories to change that

Lines of duty by Laura Silvia Battaglia It’s tough for journalists to visit Yemen, our reporter talks about how she does it

Locking the gates by Jan Fox Writers, artists, academics and musicians are self-censoring as they worry about getting visas to go to the USA

Reaching for the off switch by Meera Selva Internet shutdowns are growing as nations seek to control public access to information

Hiding your true self by Mark Frary LGBT people face particular discrimination at some international borders

They shall not pass by Stephen Woodman Journalists and activists crossing between Mexico and the USA are being systematically targeted, sometimes sent back by officials using people trafficking laws

“UK border policy damages credibility” by Charlotte Bailey Festival directors say the UK border policy is forcing artists to stop visiting

Ten tips for a safe crossing by Ela Stapley Our digital security expert gives advice on how to keep your information secure at borders

Export laws by Ryan Gallagher China is selling on surveillance technology to the rest of the world

At the world’s toughest border by Steven Borowiec South Koreans face prison for keeping in touch with their North Korean family

Stripsearch by Martin Rowson Bees and herbaceous borders

Inside the silent zone by Silvia Nortes Journalists are being stopped from reporting the disputed north African Western Sahara region

The great news wall of China by Karoline Kan China is spinning its version of the Hong Kong protests to control the news

Kenya: who is watching you? by Wana Udobang Kenyan journalist Catherine Gicheru is worried her country knows everything about her

Top ten states closing their doors to ideas by Mark Frary We look at countries which seek to stop ideas circulating[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row disable_element=”yes”][vc_column][vc_custom_heading text=”Global View”][vc_column_text]Small victories do count by Jodie Ginsberg The kind of individual support Index gives people living under oppressive regimes is a vital step towards wider change[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_custom_heading text=”In Focus”][vc_column_text]Germany’s surveillance fears by Cathrin Schaer Thirty years on from the fall of the Berlin wall and the disbanding of the Stasi, Germans worry about who is watching them

Freestyle portraits by Rachael Jolley Cartoonists Kanika Mishra from India, Pedro X Molina from Nicaragua and China’s Badiucao put threats to free expression into pictures

Tackling news stories that journalists aren’t writing by Alison Flood Crime writers Scott Turow, Val McDermid, Massimo Carlotto and Ahmet Altan talk about how the inspiration for their fiction comes from real life stories

Mosul’s new chapter by Omar Mohammed What do students think about the new books arriving at Mosul library, after Isis destroyed the previous building and collection?

The [REDACTED] crossword by Herbashe The first ever Index crossword based on a theme central to the magazine

Cries from the last century and lessons for today by Sally Gimson Nadine Gordimer, Václav Havel, Samuel Beckett and Arthur Miller all wrote for Index. We asked modern day writers Elif Shafak, Kerry Hudson and Emilie Pine plus theatre director Nicholas Hytner why the writing is still relevant

In memory of Andrew Graham-Yooll by Rachael Jolley Remembering the former Index editor who risked his life to report from Argentina during the worst years of the dictatorship[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_custom_heading text=”Culture”][vc_column_text]Backed into a corner by love by Chen Xiwo A newly translated story by censored Chinese writer about the abusive relationship between a mother and daughter plus an interview with the author

On the road by Marguerite Duras The first English translation of an extract from the screenplay of the 1977 film Le Camion by one of the greatest French writers of the 20th century

Muting young voices by Brian Patten  Two poems, one written exclusively for Index, about how the exam culture in schools can destroy creativity by the Liverpool Poet

Finding poetry in trauma by Dean Atta Male rape is still a taboo subject, but very little is off-limits for this award-winning writer from London who has written an exclusive poem for Index[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_custom_heading text=”Column”][vc_column_text]Index around the world: Tales of the unexpected by Sally Gimson and Lewis Jennings Index has started a new media monitoring project and has been telling folk stories at this summer’s festivals[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_custom_heading text=”Endnote”][vc_column_text]Endnote: Macho politics drive academic closures by Sally Gimson Academics who teach gender studies are losing their jobs and their funding as populist leaders attack “gender ideology”[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column width=”1/3″][vc_custom_heading text=”Subscribe”][vc_column_text]In print, online, in your mailbox, on your iPad.

Subscription options from £18 or just £1.49 in the App Store for a digital issue.

Every subscriber helps support Index on Censorship’s projects around the world.

SUBSCRIBE NOW[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][vc_column width=”1/3″][vc_custom_heading text=”Read”][vc_column_text]The playwright Arthur Miller wrote an essay for Index in 1978 entitled The Sin of Power. We reproduce it for the first time on our website and theatre director Nicholas Hytner responds to it in the magazine

READ HERE[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][vc_column width=”1/3″][vc_custom_heading text=”Listen”][vc_column_text]In the Index on Censorship autumn 2019 podcast, we focus on how travel restrictions at borders are limiting the flow of free thought and ideas. Lewis Jennings and Sally Gimson talk to trans woman and activist Peppermint; San Diego photojournalist Ariana Drehsler and Index’s South Korean correspondent Steven Borowiec

LISTEN HERE[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]

In memory of Andrew Graham-Yooll

[vc_row][vc_column][vc_single_image image=”107971″ img_size=”full” add_caption=”yes”][vc_column_text]Just before he was about to return to Argentina for the first time since his escape from the military junta in 1976, Andrew gave me a bulky package, asking that I take care of it in his absence. It was 1983/84 and he did well to be cautious; he was badly beaten up as he prepared to testify to the ‘disappearances’ under the military. 

On his return he opened the parcel – which I’d kept under my bed untouched – and showed me the documents inside. Long lists of names, dates, details he’d recorded between 1973 and his departure three years later. These were the ‘disappeared’, the only record at the time, meticulously recorded by Andrew and the reason for the junta’s attempt on his life shortly before his departure. 

I met Andrew around 1978, not long after he arrived in the UK with his family. He had his head down at the subs desk at the Guardian, but when we all went for a drink after a night shift work, I decided there were better ways for him to spend his time. 

We had just initiated a new monthly section of the Guardian, ‘Third World Review’, and he seemed the right man to tell the story of Argentina and Latin America in a supplement that boasted ‘This is the story of the Third World – as it was then known – by its own journalists and writers in their own words’. In 1980, South magazine took the project further and Andrew eventually became my editor there. 

In 1989, as South entered its last days, I received an invitation to lunch from the then head of Index, Philip Spender. He’d had an application from someone for the newly-vacant editorship of the magazine. What could I tell him of this man Andrew Graham-Yooll? From only the second issue of Index, Andrew had got in touch and written for the magazine. He was instrumental in widening the range of the magazine well beyond its founding brief of the censorship-ridden Communist world; freedom of expression he said with passion, was as much a human right as one’s daily bread. Index seemed like the perfect job for this happy but somehow melancholy Argentine journalist: I had no hesitation in recommending him. 

Before long, he had fished me out from under the post-South dole net and I was doing a day a week editing Index and drinking with Andrew. I introduced him to the wilds of Wiltshire, introduced him to a world and people very different from the media mafia and was, in turn, educated in a world I did not know. 

I was devastated when he decided to return to Argentina as editor-in-chief of the Buenos Aries Herald in 1994. Last ace in the hole? I was his successor as editor of Index. 

Andrew’s combination of courage – of which he never spoke – humour and inner sorrow were the basis of a deep and lasting friendship that survived his return. He was due to visit me the week he died…


Judith Vidal-Hall was editor of Index on Censorship magazine from 1993 to 2007. 

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From murder to bureaucratic mayhem: After Argentina’s dictatorship, what happened next for the country’s journalists

What does not change over the decades is the desire of those in power to limit information which might be unsuitable to their needs. Why should Argentina be different?

Nearly four decades ago the military regime (1976-83) of General Jorge Rafael Videla went from threatening and terrorising journalists, as a means of controlling information, to murdering them. More than 100 journalists were killed during the seven-year rule of the armed forces, but that figure was hardly reported in the establishment press. The absence of that record often turned on the argument that the dead were “not real” journalists; that they were not newsroom hacks, but militants of different political organisations. The public lived in a state of denial, so the crimes were ignored: those killed “must have done something”.

Freedom of expression has moved on a bit. They don’t kill journalists anymore. Harassment is more common. For journalists of a certain age who worked through the 1970s, there has never been so much freedom to criticise a government as now.

The full version of this article is available until 28 October. You can read it here.

In the video below, Andrew Graham-Yooll, recalls fondly his time at Index on Censorship, firstly from 1973 when he began reporting from Buenos Aires, and then as editor between 1989 and 1993.