FBI disses Fourth Estate

editorial carton by Jacob Bogdanoff and Des Delgadillo
editorial cartoon by Jacob Bogdanoff and Des Delgadillo

Christopher Soghoian, a technologist at the American Civil Liberties Union, announced that the Federal Bureau of Investigation created a fake newspaper article linked with surveillance software in order to track a school bomb-threat suspect back in 2007, and the revelation has undermined the media’s credibility.

The FBI sent a link to the 15-year-old male suspect via MySpace to get him to open the article. Once opened, a download os law-enforcement malware tracked his location and Internet Protocol address.

The FBI’s use of surveillance software in the investigation was reported in 2007 with a confirmation that they faked an article from the Associated Press, but the organization denied using the Seattle Times in their ploy, stating that at no point was the publication referenced.

The news outlets involved are furious over this discovery with every right to be.

Over the years the media, especially journalists, has struggled with credibility issues. They are often accused of taking sources’ quotes out of context and having factual errors in their stories.

Journalists like Stephen Glass and Jayson Blair have also diminished society’s trust in the media’s integrity, and now the FBI has been added to this list.

News outlets were established to inform the public about events and catastrophes in an honest and timely manner with factual sources. They were not established to be pawns in government investigations.

Some may argue that the investigation was a public safety concern, and that this ploy was necessary in order to prevent an atrocity, but the FBI could have handled the situation differently.

Instead of emailing the suspect a fabricated article, they could have emailed him an advertisement for a fake product or searched his house and laptop after obtaining a search warrant from a judge. There was no need to specifically use a newspaper article as bait, threatening the little credibility that news outlets currently receive.

Both media outlets have been quick to express their anger in regards to the situation. “We are outraged that the FBI, with the apparent assistance of the U.S. Attorney’s Office, misappropriated the name of the Seattle Times to secretly install spyware on the computer of a crime suspect,” Seattle Times Editor Kathy Best said in a statement on Oct. 28. “This ploy violated AP’s name and undermined AP’s credibility,” added Paul Colford, AP spokesman.

A lawyer for AP has called for the Justice Department to specify the authority used to support the action as well as vow to never impersonate news again.

By intruding on an organization outside its own, the FBI crossed the boundaries of acceptable government interference. They risked both news organizations’ reputation and credibility, and disrespected the concept of freedom of the press.

The Campus Times feels it is completely unacceptable and unforgivable that the FBI had no consideration for media outlets and did not opt for another route to handle the situation.

Rather than put media credibility at stake, they should have instead used their already available technology to better handle the situation.

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