Survey: Journalists, lawyers change habits to avoid NSA snooping

Spying programs, such as those at the National Security Agency, are making journalists and lawyers change the way they do business, according to a new report from critics of the snooping.

The joint survey from the American Civil Liberties Union and Human Rights Watch, which interviewed dozens of journalists and lawyers, found that the media's ability to keep some information secret from the government “is becoming increasingly scarce and difficult to ensure.”

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“As a result, journalists and their sources, as well as lawyers and their clients, are changing their behavior in ways that undermine basic rights and corrode democratic processes,” the groups said in their 120-page report

While the Obama administration has repeatedly defended the surveillance programs, which it says are critical to making sure terrorists aren’t able to attack the U.S., privacy and civil liberties advocates have claimed that they hurt free speech by forcing people to censor themselves to avoid the government’s prying eyes.

For journalists, the government’s surveillance of Americans’ phone records and ability to grab information from online sources like Google and Facebook is only compounded by the Obama administration’s crackdown on leakers and policies to discourage people from giving away secret documents.

“Journalists told us that officials are substantially less willing to be in contact with the press, even with regard to unclassified matters or personal opinions, than they were even a few years ago,” the organizations said in their report.

“In turn, journalists increasingly feel the need to adopt elaborate steps to protect sources and information, and eliminate any digital trail of their investigations,” including advanced techniques to encrypt communications, “burner” disposable cellphones and in-person meetings rather than electronic communications.

Lawyers, too, face a “difficult challenge” in protecting the confidentiality of their clients amid government snooping, they said. They have also turned to new technologies “to avoid leaving a digital trail that could be monitored” by federal agents.

The organizations spoke with 92 people, including 46 journalists from organizations including The New York Times, The Associated Press and Reuters, as well as 42 lawyers working in a range of areas.