Ronan O'Beirne

CBC’s NSA story: who redacts the redacters?

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Last week, we wrote about redactions in freedom of information requests, but how do news outlets decide what of their own material to black out?

Christopher Parsons, for one, can’t figure that out.

Parsons, a postdoctoral fellow at the Munk School of Global Affairs who is studying “how privacy (particularly informational privacy, expressive privacy and accessibility privacy) is affected by digitally mediated surveillance” and thus knows what he’s talking about. He wrote Monday that some of CBC’s redactions in its reporting on the NSA’s activities in Canada were inexplicable at best.

The questionable redactions included placeholder text that simply read, “(U) G20 Logo G8 Logo” and the level of classification that applied to the document, which now seems irrelevant.

CBC offered a partial explanation for the redactions: the director of news content, David Walmsley, wrote that certain items were blacked out at the request of the White House and the U.S. Director of National Intelligence, for fear that it “may identify individuals who could be at risk if the material was released.”

We’ve contacted Walmsley to ask him about Parsons’s post, and will of course update this when we hear back from him.

In the meantime, we note with some amusement that Parsons found out what was behind the black marks by watching TheNational broadcast from November 27th and pausing it when CBC showed the raw documents. We cannot confirm his comparison of the two versions of the document, because that clip is not on CBC’s website, the article page or the show’s YouTube channel.

We’ll ask Walmsley about that, too.

And, unrelated to the issue of redactions, the National Post’s Matt Gurney says the NSA document does not support Greenwald’s story.

Update, December 4.: A low-quality capture of CBC’s original report can be found here.

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Don’t forget to read Lisa Coxon’s article: what the loss of beat reporters means for Canadian journalism. 



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