Surveillance a growing problem for journalists worldwide say panellists

[vc_row][vc_column][vc_single_image image=”114463″ img_size=”full” add_caption=”yes” alignment=”center”][vc_column_text]“Journalists are very, very afraid. They are being seen as enemies of the state because of this surveillance, because of their political activism, opposition politicians are afraid, everybody is afraid of the government,” said Issa Sikiti da Silva, a journalist from the Democratic Republic of Congo who has travelled to and reported from many countries across Africa. Sikiti da Silva was speaking at the digital launch party of the Index on Censorship summer magazine, held on Friday 31st July. 

The summer issue looks at the ways in which our privacy is being increasingly infringed upon in the coronavirus era. From health code apps in China dictating when people can leave their homes to poor digital literacy levels in Italy (and beyond) leaving people vulnerable to exploitation, the magazine takes a broad view. 

Sikiti da Silva was joined by Turkish writer and journalist Kaya Genç and Spanish journalist Silvia Nortes. The panel was chaired by Rachael Jolley, editor-in-chief of Index on Censorship magazine. 

“The state is tapping our phones, the state is following us into Starbucks branches…they’re all around you. But with online surveillance it’s impossible for me to know whether someone from the Turkish embassy in Britain is watching this event or someone from the intelligence agency in Turkey is watching this event. So it puts us on the spot, this new age of digital surveillance, and that’s what my piece was about for the new issue of Index,” said Genç as part of the discussion.

When asked if recent increased surveillance, in light of the Covid-19 pandemic, was a cause for concern in terms of media freedom all panellists said it was. 

Genç explained how digital surveillance is a more insidious form of government espionage, which is causing a fresh set of worries: “In a country like Turkey the state is a very palpable thing, you see it on the street…and its presence makes it a bit vulnerable because we are the one that is scrutinising that visible entity. But now it seems with apps like Life Fits Home [a Covid-19 tracing app], the state became invisible and its surveillance powers have increased.”

Nortes discussed how, in Spain, reactions to Covid-19 tracing apps and state surveillance have fallen along generational lines: “Younger people are more open to using this kind of app because, of course, they are aware that we live in a hyper connected society.”

She suggested that historical precedents may have imbued older generations with a different perspective on security around their personal information: “They feel more reluctant to give in their data and I believe this is connected somehow with [General] Franco’s dictatorship.”

She continued: “The surveillance of these years really has something to do with the concept of private life that older generations have in Spain.”

Sikiti da Silva painted a picture of Africa as a continent in which dictators continue to rule. 

“Journalists are being watched over [by the state] and by the time they have enough evidence then they will move on you or arrest you or kill you whatever they want to do with you.”

When Jolley asked if anyone was fighting back against this kind of oppression, Sikiti da Silva was blunt in his reply. He said that without money or power, there is no fighting back. “What people do mostly is to run away. In Africa we only have one solution. You run away…that’s all you can do. You just leave the country before it is too late.”

This has informed Sikiti da Silva’s travels around Africa: “Where there is media freedom I stay. Where there is no media freedom I do two or three stories, then I run away.”

Nortes said that the national security force in Spain is working on detecting ‘fake news’ which could “generate hostility toward the government’s decisions”.

“This is targeted surveillance, they’re just looking for news that could affect in a bad way the government’s management of the pandemic.” This is a trend that Index has been reporting on as part of a global project to map media freedom during the coronavirus crisis. 

“We need to be sure that once the pandemic is over we will have the same rights that we had before,” added Nortes. 

Click here to read more about the current magazine [/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]

Quiz: How well do you know your privacy facts?


Richard Patterson/Flickr


“Tracking apps”, “social distancing”, “quarantine” – all terms that have dominated the 2020 news cycle so far (remember when it was just about Brexit and Donald Trump?). But how much do you actually know about tracking apps after months of them making headlines? And as for drones, you’ve heard they’re checking up on us, but do you know how many the British police have in their fleet? 

Take our quiz based on the latest issue of Index on Censorship magazine, Private Lives, to find out the answers to these questions, and more.

Quiz: How well do you know your 'private' facts?

What fraction of Italian families didn't own a computer, laptop or tablet in 2019?
Aum Oer/Flickr
How many drones do the UK police collectively have in their fleet?
Colin. C. James/Flickr
Who said this: “God Almighty planted a garden. And indeed it is the purest of human pleasures. It is the greatest refreshment to the spirits of man.”?
Tejvan Pettinger /Flickr
According to a poll by the South Korean culture ministry, what percentage of South Koreans believe that the government should track the movements of people in quarantine, with or without their consent?
Pedro Cambra/Flickr
What is the name of the Turkish tracking app?
Rawpixel Ltd/Flickr
How much did the Mexican government spend on Italian spyware company HackingTeam’s products?
Kieran Lamb/Flickr
The president of El Salvador, Nayib Bukele, is the youngest head of state in the western hemisphere. As of June 2020, how old is he?
Presidencia El Salvador/Flickr
Who said: “Never let a good crisis go to waste”?
Matt Brown/Flickr
How long has Ugandan president Yoweri Museveni been in power?
Under Hungary's Coronavirus Act, what is the maximum prison sentence if you are accused of spreading misinformation?
Jeff Egnaczyk/Flickr
Quiz: How well do you know your 'private' facts?
You got {{userScore}} out of {{maxScore}} correct

Does using Covid-19 apps have free speech implications?

[vc_row][vc_column][vc_custom_heading text=”What do citizens in South Korea, Italy and Spain think about the long-term consequences of signing up to Covid-19 apps? Our reporters Silvia Nortes, Steven Borowiec and Laura Silvia Battaglia report for Index on Censorship magazine.” google_fonts=”font_family:Libre%20Baskerville%3Aregular%2Citalic%2C700|font_style:400%20italic%3A400%3Aitalic”][vc_single_image image=”114058″ img_size=”full” add_caption=”yes”][vc_column_text]

We feature here extracts from the full magazine article.


Kim Ki-kyung, a 28-year-old who lives in Seoul, is used to the idea of his mobile phone tracking his movements, so he wasnt bothered when he learned that his government would have access to his location data as part of efforts to contain the coronavirus outbreak.

He is far from the only one being tracked in this way. Several times a day, the millions of smartphones in South Korea bleat in unison with alerts from governments that users cannot opt out of receiving. When COVID-19 cases are diagnosed, the age and gender of the patients is disclosed to the public, along with the routes the patients took in the days before their diagnosis, so that others can avoid those places.

While the system raises issues of privacy, Kim thinks the potential benefits outweigh the concerns. Everyone is at least somewhat reluctant to share personal data with the government, but the tracking app allows the authorities to monitor people who are in self-quarantine, and will allow epidemiological surveys to be done faster,Kim said.

The government system sounds terrible at first but it really isnt all that different from regular smart services, like Google Maps or Nike Run Club,Kim said.

Kim says he follows, through the news, how the government plans to handle the data gleaned from the program, but isnt much worried about the data being used for some nefarious purpose somewhere down the road. He feels the more urgent task is containing the public health crisis. 


In Spain, our interviews found respondents were more concerned about the use of personal information collected by monitoring apps, than in the other countries. The main conclusion drawn from the interviews is that people do not trust this system completely and fear data might be misused by the government and private companies, perhaps because some people have memories of what it was like living under the General Franco dictatorship.

Juan Giménez, 28, agreed with using these apps “only for controlling the spread of the virus. Cristina Morales, 26, considers it “a violation of privacy, but, at the same time, it is appropriate to guarantee the citizenssafety and prevent confinement violations.

Ana Corral, 22,said it is OK as long as we know which information is used exactly, how it will be used and where the data is saved. If the goal is to know if you might have infected or been infected, that is fine”.

Some also mention social good as a priority. There are always individual sacrifices for the common good”, said Manuel Noguera, 40. For Eduardo Manjavacas, 40, “the end justifies the means.” Everything made for a global good and with a clear privacy policy is welcome. We live in a digital age, our data is studied daily for commercial purposes”, said Amelia Rustina, 30, while Sabina Urraca, 36, added she is ready for that sacrifice. I would like to trust individual responsibility, but I don’t.

On the other hand, older people are more reluctant, and many claim they would not register in these apps at all.


They trust the government but with some doubts; they believe that giving up part of their privacy is a negotiable asset to protect public health; they want more reassurances on the functioning of the tracking app, wishing to know who will keep the sensitive data after the end of the pandemic.

These are the attitudes of Italian citizens of all ages relating to the use of a Covid-19 tracking app.

Index spoke to 50 Italian citizens – aged between 20 and 60, of different parts of the country, different professions and different backgrounds about their thoughts on the Immuni tracking app announced by the Italian government as part of its approach to Covid-19.The Immuni app was preceded by a similar experiment in the Italian region most affected by the pandemic: Lombardy, where some of them live.

Federica Magistro, 22, university student, and Anna Pesco, 60, a teacher, living in Milan have downloaded the app in Lombardy, and are currently using it. They also plan to use the national app. Both hope that the remaining 60% of Italians also think the same way, so it maximises its use to of the entire population. Federica said: “I think I should trust those who are developing it and the government that offers it”, while Tesco said: “I would like maximum transparency and I would like to have absolute guarantee on the cancellation of my data at the end of the pandemic.”

You can read the whole of this article in our Summer 2020 issue, available by print subscription here and by digital subscription here.  


Who is watching you now? (Prospect)

[vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]Editor-in-chief of Index on Censorship magazine Rachael Jolley writes in Prospect about the impact of surveillance technology, ostensibly employed to combat the spread of Covid-19, is having on people around the world, and how it might be shaping the future of privacy.

“A desperate need to adapt to Covid-19 has meant a whole set of tools has been introduced or expanded in both public spaces and in our homes. Apps, drones and facial recognition are all lined up to find out more about us, but sometimes we are giving away far more than we want to, without even knowing.”

Read the full article here[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]