Secure Journalism at Protests


Thought you all might be interested.

Edit: This article is now also crossposted with the Freedom of the Press Foundation:


This looks good.

Quinn Norton wrote a guide for journalists at protests, which is also worth a read:

Briefly, I would add/emphasize:

-Don't take sensitive info (your normal laptop or phone). If you are arrested, this stuff will be seized. It's easy to avoid this risk by leaving those things at home.

-Dress in casual, practical, synthetic or wool, weather appropriate clothing. Don't wear cotton for the same reason that you shouldn't wear it hiking: if it gets wet, it won't keep you warm. If you are stuck in a police kettle for many hours, you may be on the street for far longer than you intended, without being able to leave.

-Wear good walking shoes that are BROKEN IN. Lightweight hiking shoes are best.

-If you wear a suit, you will only be treated differently by the cops up until the moment when they ask you to leave the area (they often insist that T.V. journalists leave, "for their own safety," right before beating the ever living crap out of people). So, wearing a suit doesn't really help in terms of getting treated like "press" by the police if you want to report on the whole protest, including the nasty bits.

-Don't carry a pocket knife or multitool. If you need to cut gaffer tape or something, carry trauma sheers. They have blunt tips and cannot be construed as a weapon.

-Carrying a bike helmet in a backpack is a good idea. Baton strikes to the head are not fun.

-Carry swim goggles with shock-resistant lenses. Rubber bullets can blind or kill if they strike the eye. I usually carried mine discreetly around my neck, under a shirt or jacket. Having them openly displayed can get you targeted (because from the cop's perspective, you look like you're "looking for trouble"). Swim goggles also protect your eyes from pepper spray and CS gas.

-Carry cash to bail yourself out (inside your sock, the police will take all of your belongings and then refuse to let you bail yourself out with the cash you had on you, which is now with your stuff in "evidence")

-Write the NLG bail number on your arm in sharpie. If you carry it on a card, this may be taken from you as well. Try to memorize it.

-Carry a bottle of LAW (50% liquid antacid, 50% water) to self-treat any tear gas or pepper spray injuries which may be inflicted on you.

-Carry a small first aid kit. I recommend a bunch of 4x4s and one large trauma pad to deal with baton strikes to the head, roller gauze and 1 inch medical tape to hold that gauze in place, as well an ice pack to treat swelling from abdominal baton strikes and rubber bullets, with one ACE bandage to hold that in place. Moleskin and paper tape are a plus, since blisters can develop if you're walking a long way. Carry at least one pair of nitrile gloves, in case you need to treat someone else (yes, this is blurring the line journalistically, but if someone has blood spurting out of their head and you have gauze, are you really not going to help them at that point?) Don't bother with band aids or store bought first aid kits. Make sure to seal all of your first aid stuff in individual zip lock bags. If your gauze becomes impregnated with CS gas, then it will irritate and inflame any wound you apply it to. Keep it clean.

-Gas masks get you targeted. If you carry one, carry it hidden in your backpack. If you are arrested, the D.A. may use it against you. Be aware. If you work for a large, mainstream outlet, then you are safer. Use your judgement. If you do choose to carry one, buy a a NEW mask that is marketed towards civilian first responders. Purchase a NEW filter that is specifically designed to defeat CS gas. Do not buy military surplus. Only some of them defeat CS gas and many surplus masks have expired filters or cracked rubber that won't seal.

-Messenger bags vs. Backpacks: This is a trade-off. A good backpack will distribute the weight evenly across your shoulders, which is good for long marches/protests. A messenger bag, on the other hand, can be easily swung around to your front, where you can access its contents without taking it off or using one hand to hold it. Use your judgement or carry what you own.

-Carry extra water. Sip regularly. I recommend at least 3L of water in a bladder (Camelback or similar).

-Carry snacks.

-Carrying a headlamp (Petzl/Blackdiamond or similar) is a good idea. They're immensely handy. You may also want to throw a glow stick in your bag. If the protest is at night, you can crack the glow stick and use it to locate things in your bag, without drawing attention to yourself with a flashlight or headlamp. Headlamps with red-light settings are good for the same reason.

-If you're not familiar with the city where the action is taking place, carry a street map and a button compass (I'm not kidding, it's easy to get turned around - you don't need a proper orienteering compass, just "where is north"). Since burners tend to be dumb-phones for practical and economic reasons, you may not have access to Google maps.

-Carry extra batteries for your gear (your burner phone, your DSLR, your audio recording device, your other stuff). If any of your kit is USB re-chargeable, consider a lithium ion battery re-charging pack. If you loop the strap to your camera over your neck on one side, and under your arm on the other (like a messenger bag), then it's harder for someone in the crowd to steal it.

-Have a friend or colleague who knows where you are, who is not at the protest, who can start calling the jails and the NLG to try and find out where you are, if you don't call them by a pre-agreed upon time.

-Carry cigarettes. It's a great way to strike up a conversation with someone and build rapport, if you're a journo.

-Don't stand near law enforcement, especially mounted officers. Watch them carefully and stay well out of baton range.

-WALK. Never run. Running causes panic, which can lead to stampedes and injuries/deaths. Walk everywhere. Project calm.

-Handcuffs that are too tight can cause nerve damage to your wrists. If your handcuffs are too tight and the police refuse to loosen them, you can make a lot of noise with other arrestees until they are loosened, or you can loosen them yourself. Plastic flexi-cuffs are the most common cuff used at protests, because they're cheap, one-time-use cuffs. They work in the same way zip ties do, with a one-way ratchet. You can defeat them by melting the tooth on that ratchet with a bic lighter, if you can reach a lighter kept in your back pocket. Traditional handcuffs have one universal key, which can be purchased online (I recommend Vigilant Gear for discreet plastic keys). You can also defeat a traditional handcuff with a shim. Don't remove your cuffs, just loosen them. The police will obviously lose it if they see you without them on. If you remove the cuffs while in the back of a transport van, put them back on before the cop opens the van doors again. These tools can obviously make your case more difficult. Use your judgement. Deniable, multi-use tools like bic lighters are best.

-Bring a buddy/colleague. Stick with your buddy until you both leave the protest. Never go alone.

-On body armor: You will not need body armor at 99% of protests. However, there are a select few where it is appropriate, such as Ferguson. If body armor is advisable, DO NOT wear a giant plate carrier with PALS webbing all over it. This will get you targeted by the cops and someone may even try to steal it from you. Wear a low-profile, lightweight plate carrier that is designed to be worn under clothing (the type a VIP would wear under a suit). For plates, I recommend DFNDR Armor. They are extremely lightweight, and their rifle plates will defeat 5.56x45mm rounds. If you do ever wear body armor, DO conceal it. Don't wear a blue plate carrier. This isn't a war zone. Don't talk about the fact that you're wearing it. DFNDR plates are great because they're light, you forget you're wearing them, and they let you get on with your job. You probably don't need body armor, but if you do, there you go.

Good luck out there :slight_smile:


While body armour is probably a little extreme in a US environment its worth adding a few things.

-if travelling abroad you need to consider the environment and weapons used in the conflict when selecting the correct level of body armour you need. It's not as simple as saying they use M4 rifles so I need protection against 5.56. Different rounds have different penetration abilities (E.g If your going to an environment I suggest where you need such protection, I suggest speaking with a specialist.

-It needs to be fitted to your body. Especially if you are short or a women. If it's not fitted correctly it will be even more uncomfortable (meaning someone will take it off) and/or loses some of it's ballistic protection due to shifting movement.

-It is not that well known but it is really a bad idea to buy second hand body armour (by that I mean the plates that you insert). Kevlar plates can damage very easily and you can only really verify their strength by x-raying them (they look fine to the naked eye). Plates, especially ex-military and police ones are worn days on end and get bashed around all the time. I know of plates which have been seriously weakened after only a few minor drops on the floor. People would be shocked if they knew how much body armour worn by soldiers etc is in fact damaged and thus has a weaker protection strength.

-You need to adjust how you work to ensure body positioning makes the maximum use of the armour protect if necessary. For example, cameraman who twist their body to the side to film are actually exposing the side without any ballistic protection. This seems a bit strange but dozens of soldiers have been killed in conflict areas purely because of the slight shift in body position.

-If your in a situation where you believe the risk warrants the usage of ballistic protection you should also add things like ESS glasses or goggles to your list. Also, you really need to know how to use and have with you a tourniquet (also add something like QuikClot to your first aid kit) with you. I know some people feel they can make one if they need to, realistically that is very unlikely to happen when in a shock and loosing blood. I highly recommend the Combat Application Tourniquet - you need to train yourself to use it under realistic conditions. So learn how to apply it one hand and blindfolded.


Here's an interesting development: