Propagandizing Against Secure Communications

It’s no secret that the State is at odds with effective cryptography. The State prefers to keep tabs on all of its subjects and that’s harder to do when they can talk confidentially amongst themselves. What makes matters worse is that the subjects like their confidentiality and seek out tools that provide that to them. So the State has to first convince its subjects that confidentiality is bad, which means it needs to put out propaganda. Fortunately, many journalists are more than happy to produce propaganda for the State:

The RCMP gave the CBC’s David Seglins and the Toronto Star’s Robert Cribb security clearance to review the details of 10 “high priority” investigations—some of which are ongoing—that show how the police is running into investigative roadblocks on everything from locked devices to encrypted chat rooms to long waits for information. The Toronto Star’s headline describes the documents as “top-secret RCMP files.”

The information sharing was stage-managed, however. Instead of handing over case files directly to the journalists, the federal police provided vetted “detailed written case summaries,” according to a statement from Seglins and Cribb. These summaries “[formed] the basis of our reporting,” they said. The journalists were given additional information on background, and allowed to ask questions, according to the statement, but “many details were withheld.”

The stories extensively quote RCMP officials, but also include comment from privacy experts who are critical of the police agency’s approach.

“On the one hand, the [RCMP] do have a serious problem,” said Jeffrey Dvorkin, former vice president of news for NPR and director of the University of Toronto Scarborough’s journalism program. “But to give information in this way to two respected media organizations does two things: it uses the media to create moral panic, and it makes the media look like police agents.”

The line between journalism and propaganda is almost nonexistent anymore. This story is an example of a more subtle form of journalist created propaganda. It’s not so much a case of a journalist writing outright propaganda as it is a journalist not questioning the information being provided by the police.

Journalists, like product reviewers, don’t like to rock the boat because it might jeopardize their access. The police, like product manufacturers, are more than happy to provide product (which is information in the case of police) to writers who show them in a good light. They are much less apt to provide product to somebody who criticizes them (which is why critics have to rely on the Freedom of Information Act). If a journalist wants to keep getting the inside scoop from the police they need to show the police in a good light, which means that they must not question the information they’re being fed too much.

Be wary of what you read in news sources. The information being printed is not always as it appears, especially when the writer wants to maintain their contacts within the State to get the inside scoop.

One thought on “Propagandizing Against Secure Communications”

  1. At least in this case there’s a fair amount of push-back to the RCMP’s heavy-handed actions. But of course that won’t make them back off; they’ll just try to get more clever about how to push their propaganda.

    It’ll be interesting to see what happens when/if Western countries pass laws that give police access to anyone’s phones. There are of course other ways to converse privately via encrypted IM, and they would be harder to stamp out than arresting anyone with a secure telephone.

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