‘Freedom of press in Spain – if you exercise it, you become a target!’

by Jane Whyatt

ECPMF’s newest member is the Spanish whistleblowing platform “Fíltrala” (Spanish for “leak it”), which was launched in April 2014 by the Associated Whistleblowing Press AWP and four local Spanish media organisations. One of its founders Susana Sanz Guardo explains in an interview how the site supports investigative journalism.

Susana Sanz Guardo_900 Susana Sanz Guardo at the Logan Symposium, Berlin, in March 2016. Photo by Jane Whyatt, ECPMF.

ECPMF: Why did you set up the whistleblowing website and what is your experience with press freedom issues?

Susana Sanz Guardo: In Spain we have a political establishment incapable of responding imaginatively to popular discontent. Traditional media appear out of touch with public opinion while the country simultaneously faces its highest corruption rates and its deepest crisis. It is a disastrous cocktail. The AWP is a decentralized whistleblower network and together with my background in citizen journalism we came together to create Filtrala.

We believe that democracy can’t function properly if citizens are kept in the dark by a non-functioning media landscape. Therefore, we understand that whistleblowing plays an important role in the current democratic process by providing the public with a means to disclose and verify wrongdoing as well as rising awareness.

We also want to make whistleblowing journalism an important point in the Spanish public debate and political agenda, so that a specific legislation can be created to rightfully protect this practice. We believe our sources are brave heroes whose right to inform the public must be protected legally. Thanks to them we can progress towards a more democratic, healthier and fairer society which is our ultimate objective.

Regarding my background, I have since long been involved in social movements as an activist, citizen journalist and livestreamer. This gave me substantial experience in bringing together media organizations, NGOs and social movements to create new spaces for exchange and discussion. An important shift that citizen journalists have led is the use of new technologies in media and direct exposure to conflicts involving freedom of speech.


What kinds of injustice do your whistleblowers expose?

We have been involved in many publications, too many to go through them all! So I will highlight just a few.

In 2014, we unveiled reports on fracking that the Ministry of Environment kept away from public debate. We also unveiled the ins and outs of high level negotiations between Brussels and Ecuador related to Free Trade Agreement (FTA) in which Europe exerted a level of pressure that was out of order. We have demonstrated various irregularities in the Community of Madrid like the existence of blacklists in the hiring policies of the Spanish National Research Council (CSIC). We have also revealed how millions of euros in fraud from public concessions go to bankruptcy brokerage companies like Marina d'Or or Kurata systems.

We published the advertising expenditures of Madrid's City Council, from 2011 to 2015 which is something about which they were not sufficiently transparent and revealed considerable nepotism towards friendly media. We published three TTIP/TISA classified drafts thanks to which many more people now know about this secretive agreement.

We can see the importance of this project for Spanish society and how it is being used by whistle blowers to promote transparency as a tool to fight corruption and injustice

And how are you able to protect your sources?

Ensuring the safety of the sources is essential for us and we understand source protection as having two equally important fronts: one is technical and the other is legal.

We use technology developed by GlobaLeaks, customized to our needs by AWP. It addresses source anonymity by running as a Tor hidden service to ensure that the whistle blower as well as the organizations running the service cannot be traced back on the internet. Concerning privacy, all submissions are encrypted in their entirety using PGP (Pretty Good Privacy), a form of strong end-to-end encryption. This technical approach significantly improves the chances for a source to remain anonymous and well protected, while we keep the submission process very simple.

Just as important is the legal framework. AWP is located in Belgium because it is one of the few countries that provides a strong legal framework for the protection of sources. Being a node in the decentralized whistle blower network of AWP, Filtrala falls into the legal structure of the AWP. This legal framework doesn't offer perfect protection, but combined with anonymity it's pretty good. In addition to the technical safeguards we also instruct sources not to reveal their identity during our correspondence. Not all solutions are technical and in stressful situations it is also important to keep simple checks in place. This two-front approach to source protection means that we have successfully operated for two years and revealed more than 30 leaks and no source has been compromised.


(The text was updated on 18 April 2016.)

You can support the work of Filtrala with donations:

Fact Box: whistleblower Edward Snowden

Edward Snowden, a 32-year-old American, is one of the most prominent whistleblowers of our age and has become a symbol for standing up against violations of basic freedoms. A film about Snowden and his whistleblowing, CitizenFour, won the Oscar for Best Documentary in 2015. That same year, U.S. President Barack Obama signed the USA Freedom Act that is supposed to limit surveillance on private citizens. 

Snowden worked as a contractor for the U.S. National Security Agency (NSA) on several jobs until 2013, and during that time was able to observe abuses he then decided to make public. That year, Snowden began to have direct contact with journalists from The Washington Post and The Guardian. In May and June 2013, stories came out in these newspapers about the U.S. Government's PRISM surveillance program gathering data from Google, Facebook and other digital platforms; and also about a court order requiring Verizon to hand over to the NSA the phone records of millions of people in the U.S.

The whistleblower's revelations on secret and illegal surveillance by the NSA continued, in quick succession, as he left the U.S. for Hong Kong and the newspapers released his name as their source. Soon it also came out, in other international media outlets such as Der Spiegel, that the NSA had been spying not only inside the U.S., but also on allies such as the EU, Germany and Brazil. By August 2013, Snowden had applied for and received asylum in Russia, where he remains to this day. Despite a petition with more than 167,000 signatures asking for Snowden's pardon, the U.S. Government has refused to do so and continues to call for his return to repond to charges in the U.S. Snowden has offered to return to the U.S. if he can be guaranteed a fair trial, and has even offered to go to prison. 

(Source: CNN and The Guardian)


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