Physical Security During Protest And Poll Coverage


Dr. Michelle Ferrier, a digital content architect with 30 years of experience in media entrepreneurship and a founder of, joined us once more for a conversation on how journalists can protect themselves, their equipment, and their sources from physical damage and violence. This guidance complements prior guidance on digital safety and is especially useful for journalists planning on covering any protests or other events where violence is possible.

Key Takeaways:

  • Journalists not only face an increase in online harassment, but they also report greater concern over physical violence, including illegal arrests and seizure of property.
  • In the last 4 years, there has been an increase in attacks on press freedoms. For example, in 2019, there was a leak showing that the U.S. Government has been tracking journalists and immigration specialists in a secret database.
  • U.S. Press Freedom Tracker by the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ)
    • There have been over 800 press freedom incidents this year against journalists covering Black Lives Matter protests.
  • Public voting records contain a lot of information about you, including your full name, date of birth, political party affiliation, voter ID number, current address, and prior address. Make sure to monitor carefully publicly available information.

Best Practices for covering protests:

  • Before a protest, ask yourself the following questions:
    • Is it safe to attend?
    • What are the potential ramifications for myself? For example, being at a protest can lead to arrest. For non-citizens, this can increase risk of deportation.
    • Does my story need to have a byline?
    • What is the potential impact on my sources and my colleagues?
  • Be sure to protect your data:
    • Avoid taking your personal phone, if possible. Consider getting a burner or another device.
    • Disable any biometric logins. This includes FaceID, TouchID, or any other similar function.
    • Take photos and record video without unlocking your phone. This will ensure that if you become separated from your phone, nobody has easy access.
    • Use a live backup to stream the data from your phone to someone at your news organization. Consider a secure cloud solution, such as SecureDrop.
  • In addition to your data, protect your location:
    • Turn off location services (maybe even put yourself on airplane mode).
    • Download area maps and plan meeting spots ahead of time.
    • Do recon before the protest so you can have an exit strategy.
  • Dress and pack appropriately:
    • Take a mask or bandana (even in non-COVID times)
    • Cover yourself with long sleeved shirts, long pants, and strong shoes.
    • Wear eye protection, such as goggles. Avoid contact lenses and wear glasses instead.
    • Wear a helmet! A bike helmet should work.
    • Have your press credentials easily accessible, such as on a lanyard.
    • Pack saline water for tear gas.
    • Take a first-aid kit.
    • Pack a portable battery for your device(s).
    • Take permanent marker! You can use this to write your media attorney’s name on your arm.

Next Steps: