Two years ago filmmaker Laura Poitras knew that international authorities wanted to snoop on her.
At the time she was filming her Oscar winning documentary, “Citizenfour,” which documented NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden as he fled to Hong Kong in 2013. Given the sensitivity of the subject, it quickly became apparent that global authorities were looking for any and all information relating to Snowden and his whereabouts.
To protect Snowden, Poitras followed heightened communication protocols to ensure any snoopers wouldn’t know where she or Snowden were nor what they were saying to each other. In a recent interview with The Wall Street Journal, the filmmaker explained the extensive measures she took to maintain her digital anonymity.
Poitras told The Journal that she didn’t have a phone “during a very specific time, when I knew I was being followed.”
She then detailed how her exchanges with Snowden were of the utmost importance and she needed to make sure they were protected. “I wasn’t going to make it easy for [the government],” she explained. “It’s easy for them if you carry a mobile phone, it costs nothing for intelligence agencies to know where you are. If you don’t carry a mobile phone, then they have to spend money, they have to send people.”
So, for Poitras, the easiest way to thwart remote surveillance is by simply giving up the mobile phone.
During less critical times, however, she does own and use a mobile device. But she also employs special apps to better secure her communications. For instance, she recommended the iPhone app Signal, which encrypts communications making it impossible for snoopers to read texts or listen in on phone calls. Additionally, she called for people — specifically journalists — to use TOR browsers, which let users browse the internet anonymously.
Since filming “Citizenfour,” privacy has been an important theme for Poitras. She is now working with Chinese artists Ai Weiwei, who is working with online anonymity expert Jacob Appelbaum, on a new project, but she isn’t disclosing any details quite yet.
“It’s an art project between him and Jake [Appelbaum, an expert on online anonymity living in Berlin] and that’s all I can say.”
You can read Poitras’ entire interview over at The Wall Street Journal.
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